I hate Story Tellers in gaming.

I’ve grown to hate the term “story teller” in regards to LARPS and RPGs. The name suggests something that should be inaccurate in regards to what your staffers do when at a game. Story Tellers don’t actually tell stories, or at least the good ones don’t. Telling a story suggests that there is one side of the staff to player equation that is producing the tale, and the other side of the equation is observing the tale. “Story Tellers” shouldn’t be TELLING a STORY. Story Tellers should be organizing story enriched scenarios and situations so that the players can interact with a story telling vehicle to be a part of a collaborative story telling situation.

The “story telling vehicle” of a plot or module is the mechanical design, situation, or actions that cause a plot or module to move forward. Think of the vehicle as the driving platform that your entire module rests on. A vehicle can be a series of threats coming into the area, a merchant looking to do business, a shipwreck, or any other unique “moving parts” that make action occur in a plot. Vehicles are often times the points of interaction where the player has their proverbial videogame controller and can influence what is going on in the game.

The “vehicle” is how a player interacts with your plot and module. It is the variable, the control point, and often times the gauge of success or failure. Maybe your vehicle is a toyetic device where players have to build or destroy something hands on. Maybe players need to socially negotiate or engage your NPC to get specific information. Maybe your players need to run around a ship simulation and physically move portions of the ship to replicate sailing. All of these are fantastic vehicles, however, none of them make a full module.

The second part needed in a module is the “story situation”. The situation is what most people traditionally call the story in regards to a module. It is the who, what, when, where, and most importantly the WHY that makes your scenario both interesting to engage as well as a part of genre. It is the immersive element of the module that makes it so that the module is part of a living and breathing world. It is the portion of a module that actually makes your module/plot be a part of the over-arcing games story and genre instead of being its own standalone island. WHY is the merchant coming into town to sell these goods? WHY is this farmer coming into town asking for help? WHY is this assassin trying to kill your players?

And when you are writing the “story situation”, DO NOT REFER TO YOUR VEHICLE AS THE SITUATION. A merchant coming into town to make money and sell goods is not a situation. It is a vehicle. If you want to make this merchant into something worthwhile of sending out an NPC have the merchant be a representative of a farming collective who is looking to make future ties come the bounty of the harvest. Or have the merchant come into town with a tale of woe, suggesting that they have information about the big McGuffin or long standing antagonist that can be coerced out of them once they have finished business. That very same merchant could be coming into town to sell goods so that they can engage players as a representative of a particular faith and as business is being done see about having the players baptized into their faith.

Here is a good set of litmus tests for your module or plot before releasing it into the field. Take a look at the sum total of what you have put together for your plot. If you were to completely remove the players from interacting with the plot, would your plot just keep going? If your answer is yes then chances are good then your plot lacks a solid vehicle that allows for player agency. Now take a look at your module again. If your plot could exist at any LARP of any Genre without having to change or remove key points, then your plot needs a better situation. If the tale you are weaving around your genre is able to be applied to any LARP, then chances are good the situation is too generic and needs more detail and flavor to become something that is engaging.

Sometimes turning a flop of a module into something amazing just requires that little extra touch. Turn a field of zombies into a field of zombies around an unconscious child whose family now shambles in the masses. The vehicle becomes the combat with the zombies while the story situation is a vulnerable child that will draw the undead to them once they wake up… just to be eaten by their former loved ones. It’s up to the players to save the child before they wake up screaming.

Take your merchant selling goods or buying materials, and give that merchant origins with a shady organization to provide or pick up “black book” type work to the people who are in the know and want to grease the wheels. This person now not only provides the merchant support you want, but also has a personality and an drive to try and find the right crooked folks to do some dirty work. Even this little scenario is incompletely as the merchant functions as a hook for a future story, but it allows your vehicle to have a little bit more of a reason to exist and allows this individual to be the gate keeper to a future interaction.

Always strive to make your vehicle more engaging and your story situation more robust. As both ends of the equation grow, so does the quality of your work.