When I started gaming 20+ years ago, “story games” and “indy games” were not even terms. Many people complain about how few games there were at the time. While I never felt there was a lack of games, at least one of the core concepts of all of them was the same: there was a game master and there were players and never did the twain meet. The players were responsible for their characters, everyting from personality to back story to abilities and the game master was responsible for everything else. In my groups, at least, this generally meant that the game master presented a world (or more often presented the world that was given in the campaign setting of the chosen game with a few minor alterations) and a plot and the players were just along for the ride. The only exception to this was the ongoing Marvel campaign my friends and I shared in which everyone had a character and everyone took turns generating adventures. Otherwise, suggestions were generally not entertained from the players and, for that matter, generally not provided. It was everyone’s understanding that the GM presented the story and the players consumed it.
The first “Story Game” I played was Vampire: the Masquerade in the early 90’s. That game is something of a joke as a story game these days. Still, it was the first game that suggested the possibility of player and game master collaboration. I can’t say I liked it at the time.
And I still don’t particularly like high collaboration games. I generally find them exhausting. I can build and run a world and I can run a character but it is difficult for me to do both. It is difficult to shift from one mindset to the other, either reacting to the actions of the players or reacting to the world my character is in.
On the other hand, I play with some really brilliant, creative people and some of the wonder of being a gamer is seeing what the other people around the table come up with. I recently started a Savage Worlds Spelljammer campaign (yes, THAT Spelljammer. Shut up. Spelljammer is awesome) and one of the awesome things about Spelljammer is that you’re dealing with an essentially limitless campaign “world.” It would be the height of arrogance for me to believe that I could define everything.
In the hopes that I would be able to tap into the creative brilliance of my players and that I might be able to pass off some of the burden of creating a universe for them, I decided to make one of the Bennies in my game a “Fate Chip.” I use poker chips as Bennies so it was easy enough to simply pick a different colored chip as the Fate chip. When passing out the Bennies, one of the players randomly receives this Fate Chip.
A player can turn in a Fate Chip to declare one fact about the world or scene going on so long as it does not contradict anything already in play. Once the Fate Chip is spent, it goes back into the bag giving people the chance to draw it again when they earn more Bennies.
This works ok, especially for if you’re the kind of GM who want to keep a relatively tight rein on your campaign but still give your players the chance to chime in.
It ended up not working too well for my group. The process was simply too limiting. So, we kept that process, and the players who get the Fate chip are allowed to implement a change during a scene, establishing that the floor is slick or that they happen to have the device that they need to overcome the issue on hand, for example. But we expanded the world development as well. The Fate chip is now generally used for smaller, more incidental changes but larger aspects are defined in a different way.
Now, for the last half hour of each session, the players get together to decide one aspect of the universe. Much like combat in Savage Worlds, I deal initiative cards. Whoever wins gets to establish one thing, whether this be a crew member, a legend, a location or whatever else and writes it on a note card. This is then passed around the table and each player gets to expand it a little bit. The idea often mutates from what it originally was but never completely changes. This has been quite useful and I’ve already developed several additional adventures based on this world building.
It’s also been really entertaining. There is a certain sense of wonder in seeing what happens and even the person originating the idea is often pleasantly surprised by what gets added in. It has been a great way to get the group to really buy into the campaign. Sometimes, I suspect this portion is my players’ favorite part of each session.