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People have asked about what games we play at Story Games Seattle because it seemed like we were not being consistent. We were allowing some GMed games but not others.
The sad fact is that those people who were raising their eyebrows were exactly right: we were slacking recently and not doing our jobs. And when I say 'we' I mean me: it's entirely my fault. I got lazy and let people play whatever they wanted instead of sticking to the plan.
I don't like to bore people with theory and policy (we're here to game, right?) and this whole post falls in that category, but for the record, since I took over Story Games Seattle three and half years ago the goal has been pretty simple:
That's been the plan. There are a number of things we do to make that happen and one of them (obviously) is to play games that are designed so everyone has a voice. That's where the whole idea of no GM and no prep games comes from. If you look back over all the games that have been played at Story Games Seattle you'll notice the vast majority fit that profile.
For a long time I ran almost every meetup personally. I was moderating every pitch session and talking directly with every single new person who showed up (and there were a lot) so I could make sure we were staying true to that goal without having to lay out a strict policy. Over the years we periodically let Game Master'ed games sneak in, usually because we were bored some night. But that's not what the group has been about for the last three and a half years.
But for a while now other organizers have stepped up and regularly run meetups. It's fallen on their shoulders to make sure the principles of the group are being upheld no matter who shows up that day (which is exactly an organizer's job, fyi). And just as it's been unfair to people coming to the meetup to not make it clear what games fit, it's been unfair to Pat, Marc, Caroline and Jamie to saddle them with subtle traditions instead of explicit, codified rules that they can point to and quote.
Which is why I've switched from the subtle (?), hands-on approach I've used for years and made things like "no GM, no prep" an overt policy. No more guessing what's okay and what's not.
Getting the message out has been hit or miss. Our system of "come play whenever you want" is a blessing for play but a curse when it comes to communication. It gives people freedom to participate whenever they want but it also means that no matter how many times you explain something, someone might show up next week who hasn't been to a meetup for six months or read the forums and then we have the same discussion all over again. Which means some people have had to explain this whole thing over and over and over again. That's not always been fun but it's the nature of the beast.
WHO IS IT FOR?
You may be asking yourself: why does it matter? Who cares if we play with a Game Master or an adventure someone wrote ahead of time or run campaigns across multiple meetups? They're all just role-playing games so what's the difference?
It is not a question of whether all those other species of games are awesome. Apocalypse World and all its spin-offs? Super fun. Mouse Guard? Love it. My Life With Master, 3:16, Dogs in the Vineyard, In A Wicked Age, frickin' Dungeons & Dragons? All great games. Go play them!
But I happen to think it's pretty important that there's a place in the world where people get to show up knowing they're going to sit down as equals and make something together. And apparently that idea strikes a chord, because over the years more and more people have come and played (data point: three years ago Story Games Seattle met once a month, now we meet nine times that often with more people at each meetup to boot).
You might not agree. You might think it's not important or that it doesn't benefit you. And maybe it doesn't benefit you.
But keep in mind that there are other people who it does benefit, people who might not be gaming at all otherwise. For me, that makes the whole thing worthwhile.