The Player’s Perspective: Collaborative Storytelling

'talk' by lovelornpoets on Flickr
‘talk’ by lovelornpoets on Flickr

Greetings, travelers! Welcome to “The Player’s Perspective,” a new column on Troll in the Corner with a little twist. You see, there is a wealth of information out there to help and assist game masters. Admittedly, GM’s have a lot of work to do to run a fun and enjoyable game, but what about the players? At any given table there are more players than GM’s, so why is there not more information for them? I am here to help players with advice and tips on how to bring their game up to the next level.

At this point, a brief introduction seems appropriate. My name is Jason, and I have been playing tabletop RPGs since the late 1980’s. The D&D first edition Player’s Handbook was one of the first books I ever read cover to cover. I have played most major game settings and rules systems through the past 25 years. Long story short: I have been gaming for as long as I can remember. It is just a part of who I am.

For my debut, I want to discuss an idea that will underpin every conversation one can have about playing RPGs, and that is collaborative storytelling. A common misconception is that the Game Master is solely responsible for telling the story in any given game, and this is not entirely accurate. In World of Darkness games, the GM is even referred to as the Storyteller and they certainly play a big role in the telling of the story, but they are not alone. The players of the game are the protagonists of the story and as such have a crucial part to play when telling the story. Your GM can spend hours working on making the most epic of adventures for your game all to have it ruined because a party member said, “Screw it,” and went to the local tavern to get drunk and start a fight with a halfling. Being a GM is like trying to recreate The Lord of the Rings, only having no control over what the Fellowship actually does.

No matter how frustrating this truth can be in the worst of times, this concept is what makes RPGs amazing. When the GM and the players are on the same page, great stories are told. Everyone at the table has a part to play in this collaboration, and all it takes is one stubborn or misguided person to derail everyone’s efforts.

For example, many years ago some friends and I started a new campaign in a home brew world made by the GM using 2nd edition D&D rules. I made a centaur druid to play and went to town making a background and a personality that I thought would be great. My character lived in his grove in the forest and was happy and content; nothing mattered more to him than his woodland home. Unfortunately, this meant that he did not care about these random people, the party, who came into his forest and insisted that he leave and seek adventure. You see, I made a deep and interesting character that made sense in the world, but I did not make a protagonist suitable to the story. So instead of beginning on a noble quest, the party had to try to drag the reluctant centaur out of the forest. While it was temporarily fun for me to rain on everyone else’s parade, it did not lend itself to an enjoyable game as it pitted me against the rest of the table. While conflict between characters, whether it is PC vs. NPC or even PC vs. PC, is an integral part of any good story, it must be handled within the framework of a shared vision.

Sometimes this shared vision will require compromise. The goal of every game should be to have fun. Learning how to work together and build off of each other will not only make the whole experience more enjoyable, but you will also make a great story together.

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