The Taoist Storyteller
by Heather Logas
It’s good to be the god of your own world. It can be a very satisfying job, but seldom does it run smoothly. Storytelling (GMing, etc.) is an art in and of itself. It’s not just one job, but many: writer, actor, improviser, mediator, administrator, designer…and if you find yourself in the digital realm, perhaps even coder.
As anyone who has run a LARP or a MUD will tell you, it is a very different thing from running a table-top role playing game. A table-top game is a much more controlled environment. The table-top story teller has all of their players contained in one small area, can listen to their banter and anticipate their actions. They can steer the players, ever so gently, down the path that they’d like their story to take. It is also very likely that they will know all of the players personally or, if they don’t, they can make a quick assessment on how the players are likely to respond to different stimuli based on that player’s actions early on in the session. They also have greater liberty with the story, allowing for time to pass unaccounted for and for characters to travel far and wide.
LARP STing, on the other hand, requires a Taoistic sense of calm and flexibility. Tightly controlling the game is out of the question. There are more players than in a table-top game, and they will be running all over the place and having side conversations out of the storyteller’s ear-shot. It is very likely that many of the players will be completely random people, which make their actions very hard to predict. The story will occur in almost completely real-time, which is not only demanding on the storyteller but also adds to the ST not being able to easily keep on top of everything that is going on. Players in a LARP don’t wait until the ST is ready to deal with them. They keep right on playing.
I have known table-top STs who have made the transition between table-top and LARPing very poorly. It is easy to pick them out after playing with them for a little while. They are the very controlling STs, the ones who are constantly throwing monsters or other huge NPCs at the players. The ones who are leaning heavily over the shoulders of the players who are conversing in-character with each other. The ones who try to push their plot-lines into the game through ludicrous means, even if the players are all having a fine time just plotting and scheming on their own.
A very hard lesson for any LARP ST to learn is the lesson of any proud parent: learn to let go.
For a one-shot LARP, a storyteller is responsible for creating the characters, establishing the wheres, whens and whys of the setting, and deciding on whether there will be any “outside interference” (some circumstance not directly controlled by player characters: best kept to a minimum) during the course of the game. I also enjoy making props. 80% of the STs work happens before the game starts. During the game, the ST is best off sitting back, watching the seeds of a narrative that they have planted take root and grow, and occasionally stepping in to mediate the rules or if something needs to be described to the players. Not only does it make the ST’s job more relaxing and fun, it also makes for a more satisfying experience for the players. The LARP’s narrative is intrinsically waiting in the combination of character backgrounds and setting that the storyteller has provided. Once all the pieces are together, they will unlock and create a story. Sometimes this will be very similar to what the storyteller had in mind. Other times it will turn out completely different. That’s ok. As long as the players are having a good time and are engaged, than the storyteller has done their job and does not need to try to lead the players by the nose into creating one particular story.
And the best part is, it will never be exactly the same story twice. The storytelling process is a collaboration between the storyteller and players. At the end of the day, the real satisfaction is in watching how the story came out this particular time and knowing that the players had a great time making it that way.