Tales from the Gazebo – Storytelling with Spirit, Part 5

Storytelling with Spirit, Part 5
By Cape Rust

Yes as you can see I was finally able to game and the character creation process was even more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Some of my gaming group is resistant to change; they like to stick to the same system. I mentioned it before in this series, but I feel that I have to bring it up again because Spirit of the Century really is a far departure from many of the games out there and its unique mechanics are not gimmicky. There are tons and tons of systems out there that do things a bit differently and some do it better than others. What I got to see was an almost instant transformation of our group from die hard D&D 3.5 players to FATE devotees. The remarkable thing is that much of this transformation happened during character creation. Before the game even started I could see that everyone in our group was already invested in their characters. They felt like they knew them and had great ideas on how they would play them.

I knew this game would be a challenge for me. I normally go into a game session with a general idea of what I think should happen and try to let the players drive the train (within reason). SotC is one of those games that you simply can’t railroad your players. When you have a mechanic that basically allows players to choose some abilities or even languages on the fly, trying to dictate every aspect of the flow of the game becomes an exercise in futility. This is the point where the term cooperative storytelling really comes into play. I have been in several groups where I simply could not have run SotC. Games like this can handle power gamers, but the results are never as good as when everyone (including the GM) puts aside their own agenda and embraces the story.

Watching my players compromise and change some of their pre-conceived notions about their characters during the creation process to make the story better almost brought a tear to my eye. Most of this compromise was player driven, there were a few times where I made suggestions based on what I knew about the story, but it was the players that set me up for success. This spirit carried into the first game session as each of the players was ready to test their character concept and to see just how the FATE rules system and the FUDGE dice would actually work.

I let the players know where their characters were starting out and within minutes they had worked out several additional background tidbits for their characters and my married couple had sort of set their tabletop marriage dynamic. I was able to just sit back and watch the show. I can’t even describe how amazing it is to see players who had grown tired of the sword and board grind to transition into energized storytellers. I had nothing to do with this transformation, it was all on them!

Most of our group have run games before so they know the deal, but this transcended the normal “I’ve been behind the screen, so I’ll cut you a break” attitude. As this mojo started flowing, the players kept giving me more and more ideas through their interaction; I got much more than I gave. One of the most amusing things was watching my players operate in a sandbox with very flexible rules. I wish I had pictures of their faces the first time I compelled them to do something, or the sheer joy of watching them pull off cinematic stunts that just can’t be covered by rules and the fun really brought me back to those days of yore when I was young and never followed those rules.

This entire process really gave me a second wind that at the time I didn’t even realize I needed. As the story progressed the players made adjustments to their characters based on actions they had taken during the story. When it came time to add aspects to their characters, each player solicited input from the entire group rather than going to their own corner and doing it in a void. There were so many epic moments in this game that I could spend the rest of the year discussing them. But for me it was gratifying to see all of us recharge our gaming batteries and stop looking at our hobby as work.

Games like Spirit of the Century are not for everyone or every group, but if you find your gaming group in a dungeon crawl rut try to mix things up; pick up a humorous or storytelling game. Take the time to find a game that has a rules set that will allow your players to do everything your normal game won’t let them do. If you don’t want to search out that new system, take a few weeks off from your regular game, and have the players roll up new characters and let them go a bit wild. Give them outrageous stats and house rule everything, in fact, ask the players what house rule they want and do your best to implement them. If you come to a rules impasse, let the players figure it out, then implement their newly minted rule. Don’t be afraid to mix things up even if it is for a few sessions, and as a GM be willing to let go and let the players drive for a little while, it might be your game, but it is their story! Never forget that characters are more than just stats and each game is a story. Always try to have a little spirit when you tell that story and if you don’t, tell a new story!

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