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I haven't done any tabletop rpgs for a very long time. I've just been invited to join in a post apoc game that is "shared narrative".

What is a shared narrative RPG?

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up vote 22 down vote accepted

The term "shared narrative" indicates substantial player participation in shaping the game's narrative elements (e.g. setting, plot, NPCs). In some games, GMs establish and orchestrate the world, and players can only use their characters to interact with what the GM gives them. I'll call that style "GM-directed.” In games with a shared narrative, on the other hand, players have a chance to establish at least some of those elements themselves. They get to control parts of the world beyond their characters.

Player impact varies, though. It depends on how the system (if any) defines what actions can be taken, how much narrative control the GM relinqueshes, and whether there’s a GM at all. Imagine it as a scale from GM-directed to shared narrative: games can (and often do) lie somewhere in between. They may also shift back and forth. Sometimes the GM might have the reins, and sometimes players might.

Games like D&D3.5/Pathfinder are traditionally GM-directed. For example, I played a pirate PF game. I created my character and established some history, subject to GM approval. That's it, though. During play, I couldn't just say, "My character spots land from the crow's nest!" The GM and mechanics had to establish that. If I had character man the crow’s nest, the GM asked me to roll Perception. When I rolled well, the GM decided that I spotted land.

By contrast, freeform games often spread the narrative control around. Say I’m playing a freeform pirate game, and we’ve agreed that everyone can add locations to the world. In that case, I can say that my character spots land from the crow’s nest. I have the narrative control required to do that. In this case, there's no GM, and all players are sharing narrative control equally.

Fate is a good example of narrative control shifting. Fate points can be spent to "compel" someone, or make their life more difficult. GMs can compel PCs; players can compel both NPCs and PCs. One can spend a fate point to block the compel, although someone else can offer yet another fate point to make it happen anyway. Participants can bid back and forth to decide what happens. However, if the player accepts the compel, they receive any fate points bid, which they can spend to improve their dice rolls and create new facts about the world. Thus, a player can allow others enough narrative control to complicate their character's life in exchange for more narrative control later.

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Shared narrative refers to some degree of narrative control being shared with the players, as opposed to the common approach of the GM being in charge of the narration. This can significantly increase a player's power over the game universe, as they're not confined to creating facts pertaining to their own characters only.

Probably the most common form of shared narrative control is player input during the world-building: letting the players introduce NPCs, locations, factions, history, artifacts and other concepts and objects in the fictional universe. Shared world-building is fairly easy to tailor to many kinds of games, and some, like Apocalypse World, feature player participation in world-building as a mechanic.

As a more extreme variation of shared narration, the game may forgo having a narrating GM entirely or having players take turns narrating, for example the narrator + supporting player system used in Here Be Dragons where a single player (at a time) has narrative control over the world and other players are allowed to throw in ideas freely.

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I came to the right place to ask this question. This was a really good helpful answer. I wish I could mark both questions right. – Derek Tomes Feb 28 at 21:10

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