Tonight saw us getting into Misspent Youth for the first time, with SL wearing the GM hat. The game involved our characters – all lunar pirates – sneaking aboard a corporate ship headed out for the asteroid belt on some secret mission. It might not have been the best of ideas, but what a way to misspend youth!
As we were playing tonight I was reminded once again of the power and peril of high trust games like Misspent Youth. The power of such games lies in their ability to take the plot anywhere that the play group thinks is appropriate. Want to become sole dictator of earth based on a single set of die rolls? If your group agrees that it is appropriate to the story, then you can do it. Almost nothing is inherently out-of-bounds in a high trust story game – it can be anything and everything that your play group wants it to be, and it can contain absolutely nothing that your play group objects to, finds offensive, or just isn’t interested in.
But there can also be considerable peril in high trust games. Such games often require not only high trust between the players, but high empathy and a high degree of compatibility of play styles. Without these three, the game can feel muddy and opaque, and the players can find themselves unsure of their goals and objectives, or even of the scope of possible goals and objectives. Most story games spend a large fraction of their total word count on either a) producing a setting that to some extent pre-defines what sort of actions, goals, and stories are acceptable within the framework of the game, or b) producing a set of rules that allow players to define these things themselves by consensus before the actual story begins. Neither of these is foolproof however, because the participants in the game are themselves changeable from one session of play to the next. All manner of external and internal factors can alter a player’s interests in a given setting – players can get sick, have a bad day at work, see a cool movie that they want to incorporate, feel tired, or just have the gamer equivalent of writer’s block. Any one of these things can really screw with the overall fun factor of a story game, particularly since story games tend to run for small groups and there is often nobody to pick up the slack if one of the participants is not having a good roleplaying day.
Story games trade the rigid, structured rules framework of more traditional roleplaying games for something far more free-flowing, open, and creative. The trade is often a good one, but first-time players of story games may need a shoulder to balance on while they learn to ride the bicycle without the training wheels.