Earlier tonight, I interviewed Tracy Hickman for a future episode of the Dragonlance Canticle podcast. During the conversation, we talked about gaming, and an interesting topic came up. The basic gist is that role-playing games have become very good at being simulations in nature, but have gotten further away from narrative storytelling and creativity.
Is this the case?
There are those that say that story is independent of the rules. We as gamers bring the story to the table. There’s a lot to be said for that. I know that, no matter the game, I bring the same killer storytelling to the game table.
Can rules be a deterrent to storytelling?
Frankly, yes. Want proof? Look no further than 4th edition’s Character Builder. Don’t get me wrong, Character Builder is a wonderful tool. Yet at the same time, I find that Character Builder is not the most conducive to house rules.
Many rules systems have a mechanic like feats that show extra-special abilities characters can do. They’re faster, they have new powers, they’re great with a sword, etc. etc. If the ability is not listed on the character sheet, do we even try it? Probably not. Yet it may be more dramatic to the story of the game if you can at least try things not on the character sheet (within reason, of course!).
For example, let’s say that you’re playing a rogue. Your rogue is running from a local thug who is out for blood, and the alley dead-ends just ahead. There’s nowhere to run. As the thug comes in, the rogue jumps against the wall, bounces off and does a mid-air flip, landing on his feet on the other side. He’s then able to attack the thug.
Now, in this scenario, we could look up a bunch of rules and find that there isn’t a specific rule covering this. Perhaps you, as the player, were also recently frustrated when you discovered there were no rules for fighting on a tightrope.
Rules can not cover every possibility. They can serve as guidelines. We, as gamers, can easily be drawn into the idea that if the Rules As Written (RAW) doesn’t offer an option, then it can’t be done. Yet this is a restriction on creativity and storytelling. The game suffers in the process.
My advice is to find the rules you want to use, and then approach them in broad strokes. Sometimes, a simple skill check or ability check is all you need. Our rogue from up above may have made an Acrobatics or Dexterity check to pull off that amazing flip. The DM sets an appropriate target number. If the player makes it, then you’ve got Hollywood action in your game.
Allow for the player to be creative and loosen up on the rules. It will allow everyone to have more fun and be a creative boon to your world.