Jan 28, 2009

Jack Once More - Shared or Collaborative Storytelling, Mythic, Once Upon a Time

Several big things in the last twelve months. The first is the discovery of something called the Mythic Game Master Emulator . Despite the portentous title, it is a basic set of rules/guidelines with about four charts, that can act as a "gamemaster', instead of having a .... live one. In other words, Mythic provides a way for a group to play an improvised roleplaying game without a GM.

Or to put it this way, if you haven't played a roleplaying game - Mythic is simply a way for a group of people to tell an improvised , shared story, where you play characters in the story. Or you don't have to play characters - your group could tell a story in the third person.

My friend Andrew and I have played three 2-player games, one in a Wild West setting, a "Call of Cthulhu" 1920's gangster game, and a futuristic "Gamma World" style game. Each time we've played characters in a story, where we didn't know what would happen next, or how it would end. Each time the story completed itself in an unpredictable but satisfying manner.

So this has been like, a Holy Grail thing.. playing a roleplaying game, but without all the rules, preparation, etc..

Which brings me to the second big thing. I've discovered I'm no longer as interested in traditional roleplaying games. I still run a fortnightly Harn game, because I have a dedicated group of players that have been meeting for 13 or 14 years, and I figure that as long as they're getting something from it, I don't want to disappoint them. But what I'm really interested in is shared storytelling games.

Which is pretty well what our Mythic games have been. Sure, we play characters as in a traditional rpg, but what is important is not what our characters can 'do", but how the story progesses and resolves - ie, telling a good story. So now my interest is "storytelling games" rather than 'roleplaying games". I'm hoping that very gradually I'll shift the focus of my Harn group to the "story", rather than "my character", but this may be a long process :).

And then the third big thing - the other week Andrew and I tried a 2-player storytelling game using the cards from Once Upon a Time , a fairytale storytelling game. Normally its played with a group, where each player has a hand of cards of traditional fairytale motifs eg Prince, Witch, Tower, Two People Fall In Love. Each person takes a turn playing any number of cards, and making a story from the cards as they do so. Players build on the existing story, the object is to be the first to get rid of all your cards.

But I didn't want to make a game of it, I just wanted us to tell a simple, improvised fairytale. So what we did is : we each had a hand of cards, we could play up to three cards, make a story around them, then the other person had their turn, building on the exisiting story. Play 1-3 cards, tell a story, refill your hand .

It worked wonderfully - better than I expected, and you can read the full tale of Teresa and the King. We found that halfway through the story, when the plotlines and characters were established, we were feeling constrained by the cards in our hand, and began interpreting them liberally and adding a lot of story in between :). We also used the Mythic Fate Chart to ask several important questions that altered the course of the story. (This chart gives you a yes/no, or extraordinary yes/no answer to a question).

So now I am keen to explore these two methods of storytelling - not just for fairytales, but for other genres. Mythic was the big breakthrough, and I'm now excited about the use of the Once Upon A Time cards. In the next few weeks I'll post more session reports.

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