Playing a Game as a Narrative Story

One of the most interesting learning curves for most of the players in the podcast (except Silas, since he’s a tabletop newbie) was the adjustment from “just playing a game” to “playing a game with narrative intent”. We had played tabletop RPGs before, but they don’t need to be dramatic  in the same way that a story for a podcast does. It has also been quite a fun learning curve–there’s a neat kind of challenge to playing a game as a story.

Even though a lot of us were fairly experienced RPers, it took us a while to really get the hang of playing our characters. It’s much more comfortable and much faster to say “My character does X” or “My character says Y”. In a tabletop game, it feels more efficient to be succinct about character actions or speech. Unlearning that tendency meant undoing, for some of us, years of habit. It takes practice to consistently narrate X and Y instead of just proclaiming that our character is doing the thing.

Zhu Li, Do The Thing

This also means we’ve had to pay more attention to what we’ve said. Simply proclaiming that you did something makes it pretty easy to remember, as there aren’t any details in a proclamation. But when we narrate it, when we give an eloquent speech, or describe the building we’re looking for, or explain how we dispatch that last bandit… There’s a chance that those details might need to be recalled in the future.

Because we record a few episodes at a time every couple of weeks, there’s a good chance it’s been a few weeks, maybe even months, since we established those details. Sometimes we even have trouble remembering exactly where we left off from one session to another! In a live tabletop group, many times people are fine with hand-waving the specifics.  For an actual-play podcast, we’ve found that takes away from the narrative feel of the story, so we pay special attention to it as we can’t go back and edit in (or out) details we forgot about.

Speaking of recording a few episodes at a time, there’s another challenge we’ve faced.  In a live game, there is less importance for hitting story beats within certain time frames.  We are trying to record episodes of consistent length, so we do need to hit those story beats.  We can’t afford to drag out one thing for too long, and so we have to balance keeping the pace with keeping in character.

Another interesting byproduct of the need for consistent narrative, is the need to very occasionally record episodes in the ‘wrong’ order in order to end the previous episode correctly. SPOILERS AHEAD: For example, in Season 1, when the group split up, we recorded the episode with Ripley and Hannibal first, even though we published the episode with Glenn and Mal first. We needed to know what the situation would be if and when the two groups reconnected.

Changing our focus from “quick, get across what we’re doing”, to “explain what we’re doing in a creative and interesting way to listen to” has been a fun challenge. It’s been an especially great experience for those of us who run our own games, giving us plenty of practice at painting a picture for the people we are telling our story to.

Which, of course, you can hear when you listen to our podcast.  Insert shameless plug for you to listen here, though if you’re reading our blog, you probably already do.  =P

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