There was a post and an article I read recently arguing that RPGs needed less story. You can imagine my surprise. Only what both were arguing was that a story is constricting, it forces railroading as the PCs must conform to the plot. It seemed that both thought of “story” only in the strict sense of a story one would read in fiction or watch in a movie.
That is not a definition of story I had ever encountered previously in regards to the RPG discussion.
Story, as I’ve generally seen it used in RPG discussions, refers to the narrative, the non-combaty parts of the game. And in that sense, it is no more confining or railroading than any other aspect of RPGs. In fact, I’ve been arguing – and trying to implement in my games – for more narrative, not less.
Sure I would like to see less railroading in RPGs, but there are some issues with implementing that. I personally see it as an issue of GM comfort. If you relinquish control over the narrative, if you do not have set encounters and at least the outline of a plot, you will need to be ready to create on demand. This is what I call improvisational GMing – it’s GMing on the fly. Not everyone is comfortable with doing it.
If you are comfortable with creation on the fly, it is easy enough to get started if your group feels the same. Don’t discourage players from interacting with the story elements and the other PCs. Give them control over events. If you don’t mind improve GMing, let them answer their own questions. When a player asks “do we find any clues?” your answer could be “you tell me.”
Giving players control over the plot is something into which you might need to ease them, especially if they have been involved in games with tight GM control, like how D&D, GURPS, and Savage Worlds are traditionally played. Players will likely flounder at first when you give them control, like a first-time driver nervous behind the wheel of a car. That will change.
Oh my, how that will change.
So I would agree that we need less railroading in games, but I also believe that some GMs are not willing to improv GM or comfortable with creation on the fly. It’s not easy.
But I do find it fun.