A tabletop roleplaying game is a communal and oral narrative experience shared by members of society. Though we have evolved out of the group hunts and dinnertime by the campfire, we still have that urge to tell and hear stories. Part of that evolution includes the implementation of group storytelling, enriched by different viewpoints brought to the same narrative. Tabletop roleplaying games are one such example, composed of narratives that stem from various sources, from the game’s conception to players’ real-time decisions.
1) The Players
First and foremost, the players’ in-game decisions affect the world on the diegetic level with an immediate effect. Once the player’s turn arrives, the action is declared, and the dice are cast, the story moves to that reality instead of any other possibility. Every action and the result of said action affect the story directly. The Japanese replays, books that detail the events of a game like a script, show their importance and relatability.
The players can also affect the story out-of-game as well. The players, more often than not, would suggest to other players what to do; they will joke around the table and claim that they want to achieve something for its added narrative value. This can be to make the situation more epic, dramatic, humorous or anything else.
2) The Game Master
The Game Master, the Dungeon Master, the Master of Ceremonies, the Host, whatever the name or the scope of responsibilities of the person in charge of the story, the Game Master has more responsibilities than other players. In-game, he or she takes charge of all the non-player characters on top of introducing and concluding the scenes. With the description provided and character behavior displayed, the players can decide on their actions in response to the non-player characters and the situations in hand. The Game Master can steer the situation knowing his or her players.
On top of setting up the narrative, the sandbox or the railway, the Game Master clarifies rules, mediates, and delegates logistical necessities. Every table creates a unified set of house rules alongside the game’s that are malleable and adaptable. The Game Master indirectly affects the story by defining and limiting what can and cannot be. The Game Master can also outright limit and redefine things that occur.
3) Outside Influences
The game designers define the basic set of rules, backstory, and how the former is expressed by the latter. This affects every narrative created in the game since they are limited to the actants, the things that can appear in the chronotope. This focus creates a singular unique game world, with themes and styles of stories that can be told on top of the various actions that can be taken. If the Game Master has decided to run a module or to draw inspiration from one, he or she can focus on running and adapting the story to the players rather than creating a story of their own. This limits his or her influence and increases the designers’, but it makes it easier to run the game.
All of these things are affected by the social presuppositions to various themes and tropes. No narrative exists in a void. Tabletop games draw from tropes in literature, pop culture, gaming, and even personal jokes or throwbacks to other games. Whether it is fulfilling the expected trope or going against it, no game is truly in a bubble.
The experience of a tabletop game is an inclusive one, in terms of who can tell the story. Players and Game Masters can contribute in-game or out-of-game. The game designers and module writers frame their experience, which in turn is framed by our collective consciousness and familiarity with our own intrinsic culture.
Asaph Wagner is a writer, editor and game designer currently residing in Israel. He also has the largest pro-wrestling and pop-culture lapel pin collection in the universe. https://twitter.com/asaphwagner .
Picture Reference: https://geekandsundry.com/five-famous-tabletop-rpg-tales-too-epic-to-believe/
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.