ST201: Responsible Storytelling

Being elected as a Storyteller can be a heady feeling; there’s certainly a great deal of power that comes with the job, but there’s also incredible responsibility and work.  As an ST, you are responsible for everything that happens under your tenure – the good, the bad, and the unusual.  What can you do to ensure that your tenure is one on which you can look back with pride, and one which your players remember fondly?

Be Prepared

The most important aspect of being a responsible Storyteller is to spend whatever time is needed in order to be prepared to perform your duties.  Storytelling – if you want to do it well – will take up a significant amount of your free time, and will require more than a little effort.

Part of being prepared is taking the time to talk and listen to your players.  Talking to players can be a full time job in itself. Talking to players takes many forms; email, phone, video, instant messaging, and face to face communication.  This communication will not likely occur during or at game session.  These will often be questions from players on a approval, a complaint, or something other than plot. Getting players to talk about plot, read the backgrounds, watch their role-play, and character interactions. Players talk constantly about their stories and stories they would like to see. Learn how to listen to the players and most importantly what they don’t say.

Find out what stories and situations they are interested in exploring through the game.  Crafting stories that no one is interested in and which you have to find ways to force on your players will only make your job all that more difficult.  Once you know what your players want, your job of creating stories for them becomes much easier, and will help you discover ways to add other elements the players didn’t mention but that you know will enhance the experience.

You should be sure that you have a good foundation of knowledge before arriving at game.  This doesn’t mean that Storytellers are expected to have every rule and every detail from every book memorized (it’s certainly a bonus if you are one of those for whom this is true, but it’s not required); rather, it means re-familiarizing yourself as needed.  If you know there’s a good chance of combat at the next game, take the time to go back over the combat rules.  If you’re going to run a story involving a particular type of antagonist, then that’s the time to read back over all written material pertaining to that antagonist so that the details are fresh in your memory.  And don’t forget to always check the Addenda for deviations from the printed materials.

Making sure you have taken the time to plan for each game session is also an important part of being prepared.  Keep detailed notes of what happens during each game, not just regarding storylines and plotkit(s) you may be running, but also detail out anything else of interest and/or import that happened.  Plot(s) or plot kit(s) as they are often referred to, are the framework that story is built upon and around. Plots can range from a single game session to ones that last the length of a chronicle. Detailed records are critical for any storyteller, records can be from IRC logs, emails, reports, and most important notes from game sessions.

It’s those details that you can use in future gaming sessions and to help craft future stories.  Keeping a good set of notes will also help you connect the game’s present and future to the past, and will help your successor when your tenure as Storyteller is over.  Be sure to go back over those notes well in advance of the next session, and then again right before the session; this gives you a chance to both plan ahead, and then jog your memory just before game.

Be Adaptable

Another fundamental to storytelling is the ability to adapt quickly – remember the old adage: “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” This holds true for story, plot, plans, and players.  Once you have released plot elements into your game, players will do things with them you never expected, and you must be ready to take those things and run with them. This is one of the key ways in which you can give your players agency in the game, and keep them interested and engaged.

You also have to be able to adapt and adjust your plans to fit the PCs. If you had made plans for a big gunfight at the OK corral with a group of 10 NPCs and only three PCs are interested and show up, you need to be able to adapt your scenario accordingly.

Be Fair

At all times, a responsible Storyteller must be able to remain fair and objective. Policies and rules you enforce must be applied to all of your players equally.  When you are officially working as a Storyteller, you do not have friends, you have players all of whom must be treated the same.  Some of the players will be your friends, and some of them will be people you may dislike. When you are Storytelling, you must be able to start with all players on equal standing.  Unless a player does something to upset that balance by behaving inappropriately, that equality remains.

Another important aspect of being fair and objective is Conflicts of Interest.  It’s important for you to understand this concept and, more importantly, understand how it applies to you in your position as an officer in MES.

Be Professional

Sooner or later, you are going to have to tell someone something they don’t want to hear, or make a call that is unpopular.  This situation is made all the more difficult when that someone is a friend, as it can be much harder to stick to your guns when it’s a friend that’s at the center of bad news or an issue that you have to resolve.

You’ll find yourself in situations where players are rude and even cruel.  You’re going to end up having to interact with people you don’t particularly like much.  Such is the job of being a Storyteller; you can’t always please everyone, and you don’t always get to choose with whom you interact as you perform your duties.

Always be courteous and professional, even when the other person is not.  While the Storytelling job is a volunteer one, it is still a job, and as such, Storytellers are expected to comport themselves in a professional, civil manner.  All players are to be treated with respect and courtesy.  This does not mean a Storyteller is expected to be a doormat: by all means, make use of the appropriate club procedures for dealing with inappropriate behavior.  But do so professionally.

Be Ready to Say No

As a Storyteller, you must put the needs and best interests of the game above the individual desires of your players.  You must be able to tell a player “No” when what they want is not something that would improve the game or enhance the experiences of the other players in the game.  It’s not always easy to say “No,” especially if the person is a friend. But in your role as Storyteller, you always have to consider every request in terms of whether or not it is good for the game.  If the answer is that it is not, or if you aren’t sure, then you have to be willing and able to say “No,” even if the player is a friend.