Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Collaborative, Not Competitve Storytelling.

I started off yesterday by explaining where I'm coming from on this, so I'm just going to say read yesterday's post and then come back here for the follow-up. It's ok, we'll wait.

Got it read? Good! Where yesterday put an emphasis on involving the players to make the GM's playing responsibilities lighter, today I'd like to think about how we can make the GM's planning responsibilities easier. One of the things I love about Fiasco is the fact that, since there's no GM, each player is equally responsible for thinking up fun and logical ways to set the scene. However, there is another indy game, this one that's GM-centric, that also leans on the players for setting the scene, but I gotta ask the question, why don't more games make the GM's job easier? Keep reading to see what I'm talking about.

3:16: Carnage Amongst the Stars is a fantastic and tightly-focused game. The player's are a group of space marines like from Warhammer 40k or Starship Troopers (the book, not anything else). The GM is responsible for playing the mindless hordes of aliens on each planet as well as the rare NPC that might pop up from time-to-time. Mostly though, 3:16 is the easiest GM-centric game to run. Besides the random scenario tables in the back of the book that reduces prep time to - I kid you not - 5 minutes, it also heavily leans on the players to establish the awesome.

Combat being abstract, the first role of the players after their first attack roll is to describe what makes their attack awesomely successful or a painful failure. While the point of 3:16 - to wrack up the most kills - is competitive in nature and thus residing on the other end of the competitive-collaborative spectrum of role-playing from Fiasco, it shares a common feature in that the players have a very heavy influence on what the world looks like. In both games, the scenario or playset gives a broad stereotype for a setting. In our Fiasco game it was modern day seedy London, and in 3:16 you're given a general word to describe the climate/terrain (like "Woods" or "Swamps"). Once it's established though, the players take the reigns.

Again, like my idea yesterday to give the players NPC's to play throughout the game, I'm going to strive to ask the question "what do you see?" In 3:16 it worked like this: I described the squad as coming up on a large group of rolling hills with a cave opening that's incredibly dark. They weren't sure what's inside, but they had a feeling about it. I asked them the question, "what do you see?" and one of my players changes the terrain. Instead of a cave opening in the side of the hill, he describes the whole area as looking like a series of anthills with openings on top instead of on the side. It was fantastic, inventive, and added a lot of flavor. I still remember that game from almost a year ago now, and a lot of it has to do with how Mike (the player) took control of the scene and twisted the concept of the reptoid aliens to be more hive-like. I recommend you give it a shot the next time you've got some bored-looking players on the other side of the GM screen. Anything that can make them feel tied to the story and like they are working collaboratively to create the world with the GM instead of competitively to defeat the world created by the GM is a big plus in my book.


  1. Boy do you need the right set of players for a game like this...

  2. I've done quite a bit of 3:16 too. Personally I think its great for one shots or mini campaigns but really is not good if you want a longer campaign (more than a couple 4 hour sessions worth of play). Also it has a hardcore player vs. player mechanic going beyond just the who got the most kills thing. The PVP element can either help balance the game or unbalance it depending on whether everyone plays the game of screw your buddy properly.

    I like it and most of the people I've played the game with like it ... but it has its limits. I'd suggest Burning Empires or Diasporia as possible alternatives ... again if a longer game is what people want (and yes both of those systems are a bigger undertaking in terms of rules, etc.).

    I know I digressed from your post somewhat but what can I say you got me thinking about 3:16. I really like Fate based games in terms of shared story between the players and the GM. Some of the Fate based games go beyond what even 3:16 allows in that department.

  3. @Greg: I totally agree and got a lot of similar feedback at RPG.net where I started a thread with a similar theme.

    @The LoE: Digressions are no problem at all! I agree that 3:16 is likely best for short campaigns or campaigns that have their sessions very spread out. I've been meaning to check out Burning Empires for a while now as I have all the other Burning products out there.


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