In Dealing with players of vastly different skill levels?, I got into a discussion with @SevenSidedDie about characterizing Dungeon World as a story game. @SevenSidedDie stated that:

@neontapir Point of order, Dungeon World isn't a really a storygame. It's pretty traditional in most ways, except rolls being for randomising what rule governs what happens next instead of randominsing a binary pass/fail. DW would probably suit this player (these choices would be more likely to result in adventure, less stabby death). An actual storygame is different enough from D&D and DW, and each storygame is different from all the others, that there's no way to guess whether one would suit this player.

He further described Dungeon World after I prompted him for more information:

Me: I'm intrigued, @SevenSidedDie. I've always thought of it as one. The tag for its parent, AW, says "Apocalypse World is a storytelling game by Lumpley Games that tells the story of a world in the aftermath of some unknown event." If Dungeon World isn't a story game, then what is?

SSD: @neontapir I'm not sure I could lay it all out. I started out thinking of it as a D&D-storygame, but as I've played and discussed DW more, I see more and more the traditional structure under the rules. So, a non-traditional presentation and structure to generate a traditional game style, perhaps?

I acknowledge the structural similarities. I replied by citing the tag definition from Apocalypse World, which Dungeon World was based on. It states:

Apocalypse World is a storytelling game by Lumpley Games that tells the story of a world in the aftermath of some unknown event.

There is a difference of terminology here between storygame and storytelling game. Are these two terms interchangeable? If not, what are the differences?

Assuming they are synonymous, there is clearly a difference in tone and approach between traditional tabletop RPGs and storytelling games, but both @SevenSidedDie and I struggle to articulate the difference.

What constitutes a story/storytelling game, such as the presence or absence of a certain mechanic? What are some exemplars of this kind of game?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The second part of this question may be the inverse of What is a "trad game"?, but I think the terminology piece is still relevant. \$\endgroup\$
    – neontapir
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 7:00

2 Answers 2


A bit of history

"Story Game" has been used in many different ways, but at least in the context to Dungeon World, it has a definite lineage.

The term as associated use today, was first coined by Clinton R. Nixon (I believe around 2006-2007?) as a simple and catchy term for Narrativist games. This allowed a way to promote these types of games without having to deal with the baggage (social, terminology) of Forge Forums' GNS Theory (now "Big Model Theory" as developed by Ron Edwards).

It caught on with a subset of the Forge crowd and became the inspiration for the Story Games Forums where a sizeable chunk of that crowd ended up migrating to. As they kept producing games, or talking about games developed from the Forge/SG crowd, "story game" got applied to a lot of games, regardless of whether it was Narrativist focused or not. Basically the term ended up getting broadly applied for many things much like "indie" has been for the last several years.

How it gets used now

Well, "story-game" usually gets used to mean ANY one of the following:

  • A Narrativist focused game

  • A game that focuses on fictional elements over mechanics (which usually means inclusive of many Simulationist games, particularly if they are rules light)

  • A game developed by regular members of Story Games Forums or the Forge Forums

  • A game that is designed with a focus

  • A game that is rules light

  • A game that is innovative or different than whatever folks consider "Traditional"

  • A game that can be played in short form

Is Dungeon World a Story Game?

Well, there's a lot of potential definitions up there. If you ask most of the Story Games Forum crowd, they'd probably say yes, since it falls into the usual definitions they tend to use more often with it.

As you can see, though, there's a lot of options and no definite answer. Depending on what you mean by Story Game, maybe it is, maybe it isn't.

It's definitely focus designed, developed by the Forge/Storygame crowd and influence, it's different in some ways than traditional games (especially in the GM advice/hard rules for GMs, as well as the improv nature) but it's very traditional in the way it treats player/GM power divide and events.

Is it narrativist? I know Apocalypse World is, but that's because AW pushes hard moral decisions and character exploration, while I haven't had a chance to look close at Dungeon World's details to say.

Story Game vs. Storytelling Game

"Storytelling" is a term used nearly everywhere, and it, too, has a bunch of definitions. Overall, the problem is you're asking for hard definitions from terms people just kind of throw around and mean a lot of different things with.

On the other hand, "storytelling" doesn't have the same connotations as "Story Game" for the people who use the latter the most. Given how poorly they're both defined, neither do a lot for really telling people what kind of game they're going to be getting into most of the time.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Storytelling is used heavily to describe WW/OnyxPath games. But I feel it has roughly the same definition as for storygame. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 8:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ TL;DR - "Story Game" isn't a very useful term, as every RPG can be classed as a Story Game in some way. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 8:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can see how my usual understanding of "story game" as being the first bullet point leads me to saying DW isn't one, while many of the meanings that I wasn't aware of fit it perfectly. I learned something today. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 16:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ A lot of folks really complained about the amount of terminology that came out of the Forge, but a lot of it was primarily aimed at disambiguation of topics. But the reason folks often put a lot of effort into trying to make solid definitions and stick to them was to avoid everyone talking past each other. \$\endgroup\$
    – user9935
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 16:57

In general...

A Storygame is a game where the mechanics are mostly about driving the narrative, rather than resolution of actions.

A primary example of a storygame is Fiasco - in Fiasco, you don't resolve actions - you resolve scenes. Either a positive or a negative outcome, but it's a resolution to the scene and the scene's dilema, not to a specific action.

Less clear but still generally storygames include Dogs In The Vineyard, John Wick's Houses of the Blooded and Blood and Honor.

Storygame - wider use

Many people use the term less narrowly for games where there are story affecting mechanics, but still the game is primarily action-resolution.

Story Mechanics.

The Archetypical games in this wider subset are the games using the Fate engine, such as Spirit of the Century, Dresden Files, and Diaspora; also games using the Burning Wheel engine: Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, Burning Empires, Torchbearer.

These games emphasize story focus, but still have Traditional GM-player roles. They do, however, often have ways for players to drive the story in their desired directions.

Traditional But Rules-light

A variety of games have been developed that take the light hand of the Story-games movement, but still remain very much traditional in playstyle. Some would put Apocalypse World and Dungeon World into this category, as it has no specific story-focused mechanics. Likewise, Cosmic Patrol fits here. The use of light mechanics is to allow the story to dominate play, rather than mechanics.

Many of the games here have very clear and straightforward mechanics, making the GM role less needed, or at times, even unneeded. For example, Cosmic Patrol has shared GMing rotating scene by scene, and fixed scenarios that have scene completion as the sole step needed to progress.

Traditional but with some Story Mechanics

A rare few games are very traditional, fairly rules heavy, but give some story mechanical controls to the players. Currently, 13th Age is being hyped this way, and to a lesser extent, Numenera; I can't say authoritatively. A few earlier games had limited versions of this, for example, TSR's Marvel Super Heroes allowed spending experience to modify rolls, and Games Workshop's WFRP (1E) had Fate Points that allowed surviving situations that should be lethal - escaping traps, being left for dead, surviving lethal crits.

Dungeon World and Apocalypse World in specific

Neither of these games has story mechanics.

They do have a story emphasis, and are particularly rules light; in fact, they all but eliminate the GM as Rules Arbiter role. In that light, they are as much story games as Cosmic Patrol is - but mechanically, they're almost traditional.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I really liked this answer as well. I wish I could have accepted both, they complement each other. \$\endgroup\$
    – neontapir
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 6:06

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