Feb 14, 2013

What Stories Can a Game Tell?

It must be strange for someone not acquainted with tabletop gaming to see groups of people aged from their teens to their fifties all gathered around a table. The oddly-shaped dice. The confusing jargon. The cheets filled with often innumerable statistics and rules. It's a daunting hobby at first glance.

One of the first things I'm asked when explaining tabletop roleplaying to the completely uninitiated is what you do. How can you have a story from dice and sheets of paper? What stories can you tell from this hobby?

The answer is, anything you can imagine.

With a book, movie, or even a video game, the story is more or less static. There is room for interpretation and, in the case of many video games, even the chance to guide the story along certain paths. But the key draw to a tabletop roleplaying game is that the story can become anything the players so desire.

If you want to see what might have happened if World War 2 had been won by Germany, you can explore that. If you want to imagine a world where the American War of Independence never took place, you can. You can experience the Star Wars universe with a character of your own creation leading the Rebellion and taking on the Empire instead of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.

The different games available each have their own niche areas. A game designed for sinister horror will be great for a game about a haunted house or an unstoppable serial killer. Meanwhile, a game like Dungeons and Dragons is more suited for combat-heavy games exploring ancient castles for treasure.

Some games do a variety of genres better than others, depending on your play style. Mutants and Masterminds, for example, is specifically a superhero rpg. However the rules are detailed enough to create almost any kind of character you can imagine, superhero or not. The core rules are relatively straightforward and fast-paced, allowing either cinematic action or brutal violence as the players desire.

I was honoured, recently, to learn that an old friend of mine from the Mutants and Masterminds forums had used the rules to build a version of Nathan Shepherd. The stats given there would allow anyone playing in a Mutants and Masterminds game to play as Nathan, or build a reborn of their own, taking inspiration from how his reborn abilities are represented.


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