The Third Narrator

First off, apologies for the silence. I’ve been weathering quarantine with only minimal gaming. Partly because my job has been very busy, and also partly because I’ve not done a lot of gaming, outside a couple of sessions of 5E over Roll20.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how TTRPGs are a blend of shared storytelling and mechanical systems in place to (hopefully) force interesting decisions. I’m of the mind that rules should be, if not bespoke, extremely carefully considered for appropriate fit. Why? Because play gravitates to the rules.

It’s like this: players (at least the players I’ve played with and run for all these years) find interaction with systems useful as springboards for further storytelling. Everyone, players and facilitators alike, can let the systems carry the load for giving the shared story some structure, and possibly some surprise.

Which brings me to this idea, which I believe I first heard discussed on The Iconic Podcast. It’s the idea that there are three narrators in a majority of games: the facilitator, the player, and the randomizer. The facilitator describes the world and adjudicates. The player reacts to the world and drives the story forward. The randomizer, then, tells the story of the capriciousness of fate. Nobody knows for sure how a D&D combat will go until dice are rolled. Nobody can say what the outcome of a PbtA move will be until, once again, the dice are rolled.

I think it’s important to embrace this randomness. One of the things I’ve had to unlearn is just this – the story told at the table is never any one person’s story, and in its way, the dice or cards or whatever make sure of that. The randomness becomes its own story element too – 25+ years on, and I still remember the time when a player one-shotted a dragon with a Vorpal Blade just because of sheer luck.