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This is the 1st piece in a series on cooperative storytelling.


Something that I dearly enjoyed in high school and college was cooperative storytelling. For me cooperative storytelling is a very free-form conversation with one or more people who are playing along. It feels a little like the pretending that my brother and I grew up doing. Although as adults there isn’t nearly as much tearing around the house in blanket capes. 😉

In my take on cooperative storytelling, there usually isn’t a GM, although the extent to which one player drives the story varies by group and premise. I’ve run sessions where the setting was already laid out, and sessions where we started completely from scratch. Both are fun, but obviously achieve different things. It depends whether you want to invent a new world, or whether you want to explore one that already exists.

I’ve fielded the idea with my roommates before, but they have never really been interested. One Sunday, they were finally bored enough to try it, so myself, two roommates and another friend sat down and started world building. It was quite entertaining to watch the group kind of feel out everyone else and their plans, and try to wrap their minds around the concept of not knowing everything about the world and it’s backstory or even their own main characters.

There are a lot of exciting things about cooperative storytelling. One of my favorite is the unexpected synergies. Someone says something, it dovetails with something you were thinking, and then someone else adds on, and suddenly you have a brilliant idea that none of you could have come up with on your own.

The story we told was really just a beginning. Partly we ran out of time, partly we were getting a little frustrated. The challenge of cooperative storytelling that we encountered in this case is the issue of involvement. A player can have a beautiful vision for the story they are telling, but if they don’t give the others enough hooks, they can’t help. If you are really lucky, your story goes no where. If you are unlucky, the other storytellers destroy your story by killing your important NPCs, or making them into enemies.

And therein lies the challenge of cooperative storytelling. You have to be willing to compromise, and willing to change your plans at a moments notice to incorporate what the others have in mind. You kind of have to be a mind-reader. And you really have to trust your other storytellers and their ability to tell a good story.

It probably also helps if the storytellers aren’t out to kill each other’s characters, but we didn’t run into that problem in this game. Mostly we just failed to read each other’s mind. And that made the game stall out and fall apart. Maybe four is too many players? Next time I might try this with fewer – I know it works well with two…