A Long Time Ago…
We all know how Star Wars starts, and that opening sentence firmly situates us in the setting. It’s not our time and it’s not our world. In fact, this has already happened. That phrase acts like an Aspect in that you can call on it and refer to it when you need a bit of story. It’s a bit meta, but it’s a nice jumping-off point for this topic.
You’ve got to have a way for things to happen in your game.
Sure, you can ask what an NPC would do in a given situation and give them the right moves to carry out those actions (and you should). But what about the meta narrative. What about the story that drives things outside of anyone’s actions?
In my last article I talked about how to use Moves for NPCs and the differences between NPCs that are one-offs and those that stick around. Today’s article takes Moves (and Aspects, to a degree) a step further: Moves can power the entire galaxy, if you let them.
If You Only Knew the Power…
To tackle this topic, you’ll almost need to think about the story as something that’s independent from what your players or the NPCs you control do during the game. Those things feed into it, for sure, but this is more of a discussion about how the story should go.
I can hear your brakes squealing now.
“But, isn’t that railroading? You’ve been telling us that player actions should be driving the story!”
It isn’t, and they should.
This isn’t a discussion about dictating exactly how a given session is going to go. Trying to work out those details ahead of time and then make them happen? That’s railroading. What I’m talking about is a shared understanding of how the story should go at the table. Maybe a better way to say it is this:
A shared understanding of what makes the story satisfying.
What makes a Star Wars story a good Star Wars story? The Force? A scrappy group of rebels fighting back against an evil Empire? Pulp action? Laser swords? All of those things? Something I didn’t mention?
Stories are different things to different people. No story, be it told in a game, a book, or a movie, means exactly the same thing to different people. The trick, and what I’m aiming at with the use of Moves, is that you should be able to have some sense of what your group expects when it comes to the stories at the table. Moves help you codify it.
Fully Armed and Operational
This topic kind of brings us back full circle to where this series started. The Agenda and Principles you use to guide your game are almost, but not quite, Moves in and of themselves. You use them to guide your actions and decisions both at and away from the table.
Moves are how you take those things and make fiction with them in the world of the game. NPCs and story are your vehicles for doing so. The players reflect and react to your Moves and make Moves of their own, even if the rules of your particular game don’t call them Moves.
When you’ve established the kind of game you’re running, you can classify what makes the game what it is using all of the tools above. You can make sure you stay on-theme, that you craft the appropriate story beats to happen at the right time, and react appropriately when things happen in the fiction.
When I talk about a sense of how the story is supposed to go, all that means is that the right story beats happen at the right time. You know those moments. It’s when the hero gets to make a brave sacrifice, when the lightsaber kicks on in the darkness at just the right moment. It’s when the Emperor cackles “good, good.” It’s “I love you. I know.”
When you look at all the components that make up the stories you’re telling at the table and you break them down into usable components like your Agenda, Principles, Moves, and Aspects, you give yourself the tools you need to craft the “right” kind of story. It ranges from the top level of thinking about how you approach the story, all the way down to individual NPC actions, and loops right back into the story itself. It all works together.
May the Force Be With You
When I started writing today’s article, I didn’t quite think it’d be wrapping up this series. However, it all dovetailed nicely back into itself, and here we are.
Going forward, I’d love to know what else Gnome Stew readers will like to hear about. I can keep diving into the topics I’ve been exploring in this series, I can talk game design, fiction writing and games, or whatever else seems like it would be interesting to hear about given what I’ve written so far.
Thanks for sticking with me this far. I’m excited to see what comes next.