I had a chat with some of my roleplaying group the other day about storytelling games. We just finished a very tight and entertaining game of Fiasco – using Graham Walmsley‘s “Unaussprechlichen Kulten” playset – and had started to chat. The discussion concerned why certain storytelling games worked and others didn’t – or at least, why that happened in the opinion of specific members of the group.
For example, I like Fiasco, but I didn’t like Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne. Witch effectively presents a pre-rolled Fiasco-style playset, but without strict definition of the relationships between characters – so, why didn’t I enjoy it anything like I enjoy a game of Fiasco. Is it the balance of controlling elements somehow failing for Witch, and if so, why? A Fiasco playset gives you relationships, a thing, a location, and a need. Witch gives you a character, and a few slices of his personality, a purpose, several locations, and an ultimate goal (to decide the guilt or innocence of the witch).
I can’t quite fathom why what Witch sets in down for you shouldn’t work just as well as the selection of guides and influences Fiasco offers. I wonder whether having a spattering of personality defined around your character somehow constrains it in a way that Fiasco doesn’t. Perhaps that constraint generates too much of a line of resistance for me.
I could create the relationships between my character and others, and I could define my background as I wanted. I didn’t really launch myself into anything too strenuous, but I didn’t sit back on my haunches either. What I did have set out for me already were those questions that Witch wants you to answer and those fragments of imagery that might appear throughout the telling of the tale… Did they create too much restraint on my playing the part? Did I spend too much time worrying about how I might include a rusty wheel or a dagger stuck in a tree?
To pull this all out to a macro level discussion, what does a storytelling game need to provide, or choose to exclude, to make for the most engaging and entertaining experience? Can too little be too much to handle?