Connecting the Dots – Storytelling On The Run

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to devote time and mental energy to my writing or other art interests. But while some responsibilities have placed themselves centre-stage, I can still find time for a little art appreciation, which seems at least as important. Some of that art has come from boardgames and other pursuits I’d not have even considered only a few years ago.

In a year which saw the relaunch of the Star Wars film franchise through The Force Awakens, the Star Wars milieu seemed ripe for a revisit: Disney upended the Expanded Universe, relabelling it ‘Legends’ and giving themselves room to move in the the timeline of a galaxy far, far away. My kids are now at an age where they appear to appreciate the light-vs-dark struggle of the Force mythos, are inspired by starships and lightsabers, and seem more than happy to play Star Wars at home with whatever comes to hand. Then there’s other Star Wars goodies such as Rebels, which blew us all away with Spark of Rebellion.

It seemed only appropriate to get in on the action and, while there, rather belatedly introduce myself to the collaborative storytelling of tabletop roleplaying games. Specifically, through Fantasy Flight GamesForce and Destiny, one of three arms of their Star Wars RPG (focusing on the Force, while their other games delve into the rebellion and the fringes of the Empire).

Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars Force and Destiny Core Rulebook

Turns out that visiting A Galaxy Far, Far Away was only a tabletop away.

Mechanically, I was intrigued by the character and story-building possibilities in these games; in Force & Destiny, characters have specific moral strengths & weaknesses, producing conflict which grows (or decays) their character and in turn affects the story around them. The other branches of the game can enrich this further, introducing the concept of Duty and Obligation for similar effects, creating a dynamic story that’s fun for the group, as well as the storyteller. I’ve started with the one, but can see myself expanding our stories to encompass each of these as time and the wallet allows – the experience has been truly eye-opening.

As the storyteller, the game promotes thinking on your feet, keeping the story engaging and progressing for your audience. There is – as Chuck Wendig so astutely observes – absolutely no allowance for the self absorption or crippling hesitation that is Writer’s Block:

You can’t get writer’s block at the game table. Not as a game master, not as a player. You can’t be all like, “Yeah, I’m just not feeling my character’s actions today, let’s try again tomorrow.”

Roleplaying isn’t writing, per se. It’s collaborative, and certainly not as lonely. But it does exercise many of those same creative muscles, and it’s fantastic to connect that creativity directly with an audience in real time. The magic really comes alive when you describe a scene resulting from a player’s choices and see them stare off into the middle distance, a glint in their eyes reflecting the frame of their freighter’s canopy, beyond which recedes that snowy mountaintop where they learned so much about themselves and their friends.

There may be plenty of reasons why I never got into tabletop roleplaying games earlier in life, most of them questionable, but I’m glad I eventually took the plunge. The social setting also lets me do something else that I occasionally find difficult when writing – dare to be bad. Making the story move is more important than making it perfect. A bit more practice at this and I might just learn that well enough to apply it to words on the page. In the meantime, we’ve enough material to keep practicing that mantra for a long time to come, with gently modified pre-made adventures requiring very little time investment on the part of an overcommitted GM.