Freeform Narrative Gaming Ideas
March 17, 2014 9:50 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite tabletop and board games that exist to encourage free-form narrative play with a minimum of mechanics? I know about Fate, and I like it, but I'm trying to expand a bit. I'm asking because I've become curious about narrative gaming recently, and I'm looking for inspiration from a variety of sources. Also, any books or guides to writing things like Fate scenarios (or similarly open player lead experiences) would be greatly appreciated.
posted by codacorolla to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Once Upon a Time
posted by griphus at 9:56 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Lady Blackbird (and other games by the same designer.)

As far as general resources, the Story Games forum is pretty active.
posted by kagredon at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

+1 to Once Upon a Time. Also, you would enjoy Fiasco.
posted by jbickers at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2014

posted by likeatoaster at 10:02 AM on March 17, 2014

posted by Gneisskate at 10:04 AM on March 17, 2014

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is also superb, and very free-form.
posted by jbickers at 10:04 AM on March 17, 2014

Monsterhearts! It's about sexy teenage monsters, but don't let that turn you off -- our group is having WAY more fun with it than we expected to.

But if this is your first pure-roleplaying type thing, do check out Fiasco (as mentioned above).
posted by AmandaA at 10:43 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all great suggestions, thanks so much! To the second part of the question, can anyone recommend guides for writing and designing free-form narrative games?
posted by codacorolla at 10:57 AM on March 17, 2014

Robin Law's "Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering" is a system-agnostic look at running games in general. Laws takes a lighter rather than heavier approach to rules---He's behind narrative-heavy games like Over the Edge, Gumshoe, Hero Quest and Feng Shui, to name a few. It's not exactly what you are looking for, but in the ball park, I think.

One of our favourite games for getting people to go structureless was Bunnies and Burrows (though by comparison to modern diceless games, it's stat heavy). It's easy to chuck a rulebook when no one can count to more than four.
posted by bonehead at 11:04 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

...and "B&B" in Fudge (characters and adaptations) from SOS himself.
posted by bonehead at 11:13 AM on March 17, 2014

Becoming is an awesome freeform RPG.

The person who wrote Monsterhearts has a bunch of great freeform games, including The Quiet Year, which is a ton of fun. He also lets you pay for his games with good deeds.

Simple World is a small toolset for Apocolpyse World (same system as Monsterhearts), that walks the GM and players through creating thier own customized world and mechanics.
posted by Garm at 11:29 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Definitely Monsterhearts (and pretty much any AW adaptations), Fiasco & Lady Blackbird (and adaptations thereof).

Also, Witch: Road to Linesfarne.

And De Profundis.

If you've got the time, money and inclination, you can play all these and more the first weekend in April at Maelstrom. I mention this because you seem to within reasonable travel distance of Morristown, NJ where the convention will be held.

Also, if you're interested in interacting with the indie RPG community producing a lot of these games, you really want to be active on Google+.

You may also be interested in freeform LARP.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:17 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't think of a specific guide offhand, but that's one of the main topic of conversation in the Story Games forum mentioned above.
posted by tofu_crouton at 12:17 PM on March 17, 2014

And since you've expressed an interest in design, keep an eye out for another Dexposure event, Metatopia, which is essentially an Indei RPG design & playtest convention. In 2014 it will be happening November 6 - 9.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:26 PM on March 17, 2014

The Kobold Guide to Game Design is very good.

Cthulhu How?, Stealing Cthulhu, Cthulhu Black, and Cthulhu Grey each offer interesting perspectives on system-agnostic and/or rules light gaming within the Mythos context. Many of their lessons can be applied to games in general.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:42 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another Robin D. Laws book that I think is really close to what you are asking for is Hamlet's Hit Points. Also the very excellent Laws and Hite discuss this frequently on their podcast, Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.
posted by seasparrow at 3:09 PM on March 17, 2014

So the honest answer is there is a very large number of narrative roleplaying/story games. Really the question is what kind of story/genre you're interested in.

Ribbon Drive

Which takes some (fun) setup; you have to make mix CDs. But is absolutely amazing and gives solid very emotional stories. Is all about talking and doesn't do conflict. If you play one game in this post, pick this.


Create an entire setting and characters during one sitting. Fantasy/sci fi adventure romp.

Vast And Starlit

Blake's 7 the RPG: prisoners escaping on an amazing spaceship. The rules maybe don't quite work but I've had a fun game out of this.


Improvise a Shakespearean play.

As for books, it's not about design but I've heard good things about is Play Unsafe*. Which is a distillation of Impro

Another less free form (but still probably less rules than Fate) which I enjoy but comes with a mature content warning is A Penny For My Thoughts. Also Microscope might count although it's not very 'narrative' in a strict sense.

I haven't had the chance to play either of these yet, but they are well respected:
Hell 4 Leather

Love in the Time of Seid

Lastly, another podcast to check out is Game Advocates where people advocate for game systems.

*Disclaimer: I sort of know the people who made these things
posted by Erberus at 3:37 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd skip Play Unsafe and just read Impro which is very much like a proper superset of Play Unsafe.

Thou Art But A Warrior is built on Polaris and is a little like a more structured Fiasco with some space for conflict resolution (but it's more like resolving players' conflicting ideas about where the story should go than characters' conflicts).


Ditto A Penny for Your Thoughts, Fiasco, The Quiet Year. Haven't played Microscope or Ribbon Drive yet, but they sound like they fit the bill. My Life with Master is another one that sounds really interesting that I haven't played yet.

Lady Blackbird is great, but it's not necessarily narrative free-form; Apocalypse World derivatives like MonsterHearts are even easier to play like a traditional RPG (it's against the letter and spirit of the rules for the GM to railroad players through a pre-conceived plot as some traditional games do at least some of the time, but AW's "play to find out what happens" principle fits fine with most traditional RPGs and is how some people have played them from the beginning.) But they're both great, and if you're trying to get a handle on what's going on in interesting game design, they're good to investigate.

Don't Rest Your Head and Dogs in the Vineyard are other interesting games with some narrative-ish elements but that aren't necessarily free-form.

Cortex Plus and Heroquest are a couple more that are largely traditional with some narrative elements.

As for learning game design, I think John Harper (of Lady Blackbird and many others) says here is pretty solid.
posted by Zed at 2:48 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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