Monday, January 01, 1990

Narrating the Game

Most roleplaying games assume that one player needs to be given additional authority to run the game. Commonly known as the Game Master but also known by a host of other names, this player is the ultimate arbiter of the rules and is responsible for the planning and execution of game sessions. However, it should be obvious by now that such a position does not make sense in Legends of Alyria, where such authority is explicitly given to the players. So why does the game call for a Narrator position?

In discussing roleplaying games, Ron Edwards has used the analogy of a gaming group as a band. In his analogy, the Narrator is the bass player. He is not the center of attention. Rather, he is the one who lays down the basic rhythm that everyone else builds upon. So, in Legends of Alyria, the Narrator establishes the mood and pace of the game. He helps mold player desires into a useable storymap. He is the one responsible for scene framing. He plays the unassigned characters from the storymap, as well as any incidental characters. He does make rules decisions. Through it all, he is laying the foundation for the game that the other players build upon.

Having a single voice speaking to these issues can be helpful in a gaming group. An impartial arbiter can go a long way towards avoiding needless strife in the group. However, some groups may not feel the need for a permanent Narrator. After all, most games do not have such a player. Rather, the players gather as equals, all agreeing to submit to the rules of the game. Perhaps one individual’s knowledge of the rules is superior, and the others defer to his knowledge, but this does not make that person in charge of the group. The rules are in charge.
There is no reason why Legends of Alyria cannot be run in this fashion. As long as the group is capable of laying its foundations together, they may not need a single “bass player”. However, there is still the need for the Narrator’s functions to be performed. I see two possible ways of structuring such a group. The first is to function by group consensus. The second is by using a “rotating Narrator” approach, where a player without an active character in the scene becomes the Narrator for that scene. Either way could produce rewarding results.

Regardless of how the Narrator issue is handled in your group, someone must perform his functions. The rest of this chapter is dedicated to explaining what a Narrator is supposed to do. Just remember, as you are reading this, that any or all of these functions can be performed by any of the players, and that discarding the Narrator position altogether can be a good way for you to play Legends of Alyria.


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