October 18, 2013

Toymakers and Storytellers pt 2

I posted about Storytellers and Toymakers a while back with a tongue in cheek cosmo-style quiz.  I should talk about Storytellers and Toymakers a little more.  The fundamental difference I envision is that both create hooks and stories and dramatic arcs and NPCs and challenges and so forth.  But they start in different places and stress different elements.

The Toymaker GM creates potential challenges, resources, events, and NPCs (toys) and organizes them so that when the players interact with them in character, they will be likely to have a dramatic story.  This doesn't mean a Toymaker is essentially a sandbox GM.  The organization and nature of the "toys" can lead players into clusters of challenges, resources, events and NPCs with strong hooks.  A bad "railroading" Toymaker will put all the toys in a straight line, with a barren desert all around.

The Storyteller GM creates a story, then uses challenges, resources, events, and characters (props) to tell it.  This doesn't mean that the Storyteller is a railroading GM any more than the Toymaker. Good Storytellers use the narrow-wide-narrow model of GMing -- start with a strong hook that can lead to several different possible paths that all converge on the resolution of the dramatic question posed by the hook.  Bad Storytellers "railroad" the players down a narrow path.

The Storyteller's props are there to push the story forward.  The Toymaker's story is the structure that organizes her toys.

The two approaches are fundamentally different.  In practice, they can create different experiences for players.

Toys and Props

Because of the Toymaker's stress on toys, each element in her games is likely to be an interesting puzzle or a fun setting element for the players to include in their stories.  But that also means many toys the Toymaker crafts will never be explored fully.  The storyteller's props are often like movie sets -- there's not much to them beyond what you can see.  Only props that are designed to be deeply involved in the story (or which later become integral) get a lot of detail.  This means that the Storyteller tends to improvise a lot.

Because the Storyteller's focus is on the story, a good Storyteller will have tight arcs, good pacing, and a well timed climax.

  • The story will have a high degree of verisimilitude because the Storyteller sees it holistically, and Simulationist players may enjoy that part of it.
  • Narrativist players will enjoy a Storyteller GM only if that GM allows them a good deal of input in the story.
  • Gamist players will enjoy a Storyteller GM if the GM's narrow-broad-narrow model includes real risk (making consequential decisions with incomplete information) and strategy (some options are better than others).

Because the Toymaker's focus is on the individual scene, character, event, etc., a good Toymaker will have deep characters, dynamic settings, and game-elements mixed in at every level.

  • A Simulationist player will enjoy the depth created by the GM's focus on creating toys, as long as the GM designs for what the player is interested in simulating.
  • A good Toymaker GM will please Narrativist players with her habit of placing story elements in front of them and then letting the players take over the story from there.
  • Gamist players will enjoy that everything a Toymaker creates is designed to be played with -- e.g. involved in challenges, strategic decisions, or resource management.
I think every GM should learn about to the strengths of both kinds of gamerunning.