Ask The GM: Storytelling Styles

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The interwebs (blessed be their glory) is filled with tips on how to be a game master. It’s also filled with countless arguments on if it should be called Storyteller, ST, GM, Game Master, Dungeon Master, or rat-bastard-who-always-crits. We’ve decided to add more into that pile and throw some additional content your way.

GM Tips w/ Satine Phoenix takes fifteen minutes each week and highlights a different topic. I’m going to dive back and expand on them, while hitting Satine up with questions about what she thinks.  Since I’ve been running the alphabet soup of games (from Amber to Shadowrun) and in my homebrew Seventh Age world for decades, these are still going to stay numerically light and system agnostic. Number crunching is for 2 A.M. with a pot of coffee.

So, that jazz aside, let’s get caught up. In the first episode of GM Tips, Satine and Ivan Van Norman talk about different styles of GMs:

Okay. So we are giving ourselves GM classes now. Why the hell is that important and what does that actually look like? Because I’d clip off my eyelids before I ran a campaign based on a railroad plot or narrative style every time. So what does each of these styles look like in practice? How does the module unfold at the table?


Game systems that cater to uplifting styles shift the focus of the world onto the characters. D&D sometimes fits this bill but Amber steals the trophy. On account of players being inherent gods and all. The hallmarks of an uplifting storyteller are running prequels for the characters. Or allowing them to craft large portions in your world. In time, the Hero’s Journey begins, and will end. When that time comes, the campaign ends. In practice, this style works best for smaller games and absolutely homebrew. As Satine puts it,

An uplifting module is where your adventure group is presented with encounter after encounter in your story with moments where they get to be the hero. The focus is on the success of the quest. Doing something that allows your party it’s time to shine. When designing these kinds of adventures you can focus on creating moments that urge your players to become the hero of the story utilizing their strengths. In the hero’s journey this would be the beginning of the character’s story where all seems well and they believe that they have what it takes. That sweet optimistic spot right after Crossing the threshold.


Not to be confused with being a tool at the table, this style of GM is my personal favorite. I think games like Vampire: the Masquerade or Deadlands cater really well to this style. It’s like a giant onion right? The players solve one tiny problem only to discover more problems. With each problem, there is no right or wrong answer, only a perpetual forward momentum driven by the player’s choice. If you are the storyteller who likes to sit back and watch players theorycraft on if they should kill the vampire or join him… you’ve already started on this path. Satine has her advice for putting this into practice:

“An obstructive game is a game where your story is meant to greatly challenge your players. Taking away resources from them, creating encounters with dynamic creatures who are just as alive and thought out as your players are. It’s an adventure that makes your players have to problem solve solutions. In a normal situation you’d have your group fight a bad guy. What if your players are out of spells, have had their families taken hostage and are cornered by an army? There are many ways to get out of situations, an obstructive module encourages a ‘think outside the box’ kind of play.”


You’ve got the adventure mapped out in your head. The final showdown already planned. You just need bodies to fill chairs and flesh it out—then this style is for you. I’ve found that this is the perfect style for convention storytelling or running something for a group of total strangers. We never have time to build up custom plot for each person. Savage Worlds games or Weird Wars games are great systems to try for this. I struggle the most with this style unless I’m in love with the story. Satine has a better take on it:

You see, a lot of campaign books with this kind of Narrative storytelling. The story exists with or without these specific players/characters. The entire adventure is unfolded and one plot piece leads to another and in the end you make it to the big bad guy. The magic item is always in the area it should be and the encounters. The risk doesn’t seem very high, but mostly it’s there to tell an overall story. Your players get to experience the movie and have an effect on smaller pieces of the story.


You’ve seen Dread right? The tower of hopes and dreams sitting at the core of the table. Each of the players sheets consist of personal questions and nothing more. The story inches along, each riveting moment highlighted by a pull from tower. This system just oozes the experimental style. Anything that is going put a focus on props or puzzles that players have to physically solve. If you’ve ever played True Dungeon at GenCon, that’s another great example. Most LARP’s fall into this area as well. For putting them in practice at the table, here is what Satine said when I asked her:

Specifically utilizing Encounter Pillar hybrids (Social & combat / Environment and Social, etc) and taking the players out of your traditional kind of game play and into using the real world environment. Putting together 3-dimensional puzzles for players to solve. Obstacle courses. Using the different senses of the players to amplify the experience and furthering the story. Even to elaborate on that: taking the players into different dimensions and playing within their dreams, changing the physics within the world. My favorite is color coding rooms or hallways and attaching an emotion to them, letting the players RP their way through (esp if half succeed saving throws and the other half doesn’t. Muaahahah)

So, which style of storyteller are you? What have you run into? And if you have any storytelling questions for us? Leave it in the comments! 

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