Storytelling demands creativity. It’s challenging to design a game system that consistently encourages inspiration. Fortunately, some great minds have found approaches to solve this problem. Let’s focus on the first of these approaches today; Creative Constraints.
Some games are limited in scope and these constraints can help. In Vincent Baker’s game “Poisn’d”, players portray rapacious and violent pirates. The rules tell you what general kinds of things a pirate will do and encourage you do to follow those conventions. “Dogs in the Vineyard” has the players portraying naïve and faithful youth in a western setting with more power then experience. Since much of the story is defined, these games let you focus your attention on creating interesting Situations and conflicts.
The limited scope can often show you where the interesting conflicts may be hiding. “How we Came to Live Here” presents a setting with very strict gender roles. How many of you fine folks reading this considered playing characters which violated that cultural norm? By telling players what is forbidden, they start to consider how that would impact a character.
Some of these constraints can force us to play outside of our comfort zones. The gender roles in How we Came to Live Here attracts our attention because it clashes with our cultural assumptions. Other games such as “Grey Ranks” or “Steal Away Jordan” do the same thing, forcing us to consider new perspectives and triggering creativity.
I recommend you check out “Narrative Fenceposts” by the fine folks at Transneptune Games for some related discussions.