DEBATE: Narrative-based vs Open-World RPs

This may be the most debated topic in RPing on these boards. Though it is a simple matter of preference, an ongoing arguement prevails regarding this subject.
Allow me to specify what exactly I’m talking about. Basically, I am talking about the style of how an RP is run:
One style, a narrative-based one, is an RP that follows a tight, singular story, usually GM-produced, that nearly all players follow or have to follow. These usually work better in smaller player groups, of up to under 8 people at the largest.
Meanwhile, an Open-World RP is one in which the players are given more freedom within the story, which is practically nonexistant in this style. They basically do whatever they want and make up their own plots within the GM’s created world. Typically, this occurs and works best within larger player groups of 8 or more people.

Now, I created this topic so that people could weigh in on the matter, and say which style they like and why.
And if you like an alternate style that isn’t one if these two, what is it and why?

Narrative. I don’t even know what to do if I’m not following a story.

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I think there’s your answer, its just preference, but I’ll say what I like the best. I like a game where its a bit of a mix of both; where there is a main narrative going on being driven by the GM, but the players are free to make their own subplots, or go off on their own. If you lean too close to either end of the spectrum, I think bad things will usually come of it, but that’s just my opinion.


Yeah my RPs have been too linear so far. My next one will hopefully be enough of a blend that it’ll work well

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I honestly don’t think sandboxing works with the given format of these boards. Of course, that could just be because I’ve never seen it implemented well within an RP here. The main problem with sandboxing in general is that it requires an understanding between DM and players that the players can do whatever they want, which requires a lot more work on the DM’s part to provide that content. Narrative-based RPs don’t need to be linear, but it tends to work more here.


This is an interesting topic for me to think about, and I have indeed thought a lot about it.

I think what @TheMOCingbird said is pretty close to my own viewpoint. While I like the idea of exploring the DM’s world, creating our own subplots, and having systemic stories happen, a lot of my enjoyment of RPGs comes from impactful and meaningful character moments.

For me, those moments are almost always best when the DM springs them on you. It’s too boring, predictable, almost scripted when you have a character moment in your head and you’re left on your own as a player to act it out at some point. I always enjoy when the DM crafts the narrative around the individual character backstories, tying them into each other in interesting ways and creating moments of surprise where you as a player are forced to make meaningful character choices in the moment.

Unfortunately for me, my DM in the Fools of Misfortune campaign is very much a fan of the sandbox style of game, and so are a lot of my fellow players. While they are often satisfied going on random adventures for money and character small talk, I’m usually left wanting a more focused, driven experience from the DM.

The issue with that is, of course, too much narrative crafting can lead to railroading, which is never fun. In my own DMing outings I have fallen prey to forcing my players into situations because “the story needs it.”

There needs to be a balance struck, in my own preference. A lot of people like having no main story to be locked into and doing whatever they want, and a lot love playing through pre-planned adventures. I like a healthy mix of both, with a main plot to constantly look forward to as an anchoring point and player choice dictating how that story progresses. It requires having an end goal, but a flexible route on how to get there, looking for opportunities to move the main story forward.


A mix of both is nice. Runa for example does it a lot where he sets up a sandbox ish environment for you to set up your own plots but also a larger overarching plot involving all the characters.

A good example of this is OA imo.


It really depends on personal preferences and your own capabilities as a GM.

Personally I like running a story, making changes and course corrections based on the player’s actions, ultimately leading to pre planned plot points.

However, if you’re able to manage many seperate events, characters, and plot threads simultaneously, then first of all I respect your abilities greatly, and also think that an open world game is perfectly suitable.


I really doubt this is the most debated topic in RPing on the boards. I really doubt that. So I’ll answer a couple of the unspoken questions here as well.

A GM should never force its players to do anything; you should have both worlds set before them. If the player wants to engage in the main quest that the GM is hinting towards, then they can seek out the GM character or events. Take Okotan Adventures: Spider Saga for example.

However the player is also open to do whatever they please, with realistic outcomes for their actions. Open-world doesn’t mean total anarchy. The laws of the setting still apply.

But the biggest thing to keep in mind as a GM is that Your Path, Your Plot, Your Characters, They Don’t Matter. Telling the players that they can only follow after the GM and do nothing else is railroading the playerbase, and it’s a good way to antagonize yourself as a GM. You need a backup plan for a backup plan for a backup plan for a backup plan, your plot has to be flexible, articulate, able to change and sometimes even entirely switch goals based on what the playerbase does.

I think your definitions need re-defining.[quote=“Mctoran, post:1, topic:49648”]
One style, a narrative-based one, is an RP that follows a tight, singular story, usually GM-produced, that nearly all players follow or have to follow. These usually work better in smaller player groups, of up to under 8 people at the largest.

One style, a narrative-based one, is an RP that follows a tight, singular story, always GM-produced, that takes heavy predominance in the actions of the RP. Players are still welcome to do whatever they please, but ignoring the events of the plot often leads to their characters being viewed an inept, uncaring, or antisocial to a great degree.

An example of a perfect description of this formula is an old RP from offsite: a group of Matoran are living in a sinkhole-ridden desert, are desperately in need of water, have extremely limited technology. A tyrant several miles away has a grandiose supply of fresh, drinkable water, but trades pittances of it in return for heaps of scrap metal in return for a few gallons. Here the player is allowed to ignore events of the clearly GM-controlled tyrant being critical to character survival, although it could lead to death, unless they mooch off the water being brought in and never do anything to contribute. It got cut off before the main plot could even be established, but it was handled masterfully, and nobody was railroaded or pushed about.

Meanwhile, an Open-world RP is one in which the players are given nearly directionless freedom, and the GM-created plot has such a minor focus it usually takes place entirely in the background with no player interaction whatsoever. Players expected to take part in the plot have to hunt desperately to find any presence of it.

The only good example of an RP this drastically open is a massive, site-spanning RP (offsite) that was handled by staff of the website. It consisted almost entirely of player-to-player interaction across the island of Mata Nui, which was bustling with different species, hundreds of Toa, and most of the baddies were normal people just being evil.

Again, I heavily recommend Okotan Adventures: Spider Saga for any new or old players who want a good RP on the boards, and it’s a testament to how an RP should be run. The GM-plot (and subplots) strike a perfect balance with player interactions, flowing naturally with the order of events. Both @Runa (former GM and the creator) and @jayzor17 (current GM and owner) did an exceptional job with the setting, plot, and… Well, everything. What issues it has are overshadowed by how well it’s structured and GMed.

Here’s the signups if anyone’s interested.

Oh yeah, and one more thing: site RPs are not DnD. They don’t really function the same at all, so if you’re an experienced DnD DM and you’re trying to become a site GM, tread carefully.


Personally, I feel like a mix of the two works well. Have it have a main plot, but be open.

The biggest thing in more story driven games is to refrain from going “now this is what we do now,” And instead let the players drive forwards, and build your story around it. Go in with a very vague idea of what happens, not a full story you want to slot characters into.

Basically, if characters go ‘off course’ in a game, don’t pull them back to your main plot. Go with it. These things should be game first, story second(though in a perfect world both should coexist in equal parts, that won’t happen. So first fun, then plot.)

And vice versa. It doesn’t work well. I would know from experience.

And lowkey thanks for the compliments on my GMing. I honestly didn’t think it was very good you guys.


Yeah. I’m currently running a narrative-based Star Wars RP where some younglingsare going through the trials, and I’m particular proud of the one for a Dathomirian Zabarak

Okay, now that a few people have replied to this topic, I guess I will add my own, preference and experience in this matter .

As per the advice on most response, I did try to find a happy medium between these two RP styles. And that formula was in the RP known as “2059: The Superhero Revolution”.
The players of Majestic League and its sequel, my previous RPs, had complained that the two RPs had too narrow of a plot, and that they did not have enough room to explore on their own and create their own plots within the RP. So I decided to do things differently with 2059. My new formula was that the RP will be mostly Open-World, with players only joining my GM-produced plot if they so choose, and I almost always asked for permission before involving myself in other players’ plots, or involving them in my own plots. This RP seemed to be one of, in fact my most successful RP yet, having recieved the most posts out of any other RP. I usually recieved hundreds of posts over a single weekend, and my playerbase had grown to its largest in that time. These may seem like positives, but this came with its downsides too.
I often would feel lost when coming back to 2059 the next day, having to read through about 100 posts to catch up.
But despite this stressful schedule, I managed to (in my opinion) satisfactorily conclude the RP and my GM-produced plot, as well as allowing a natural end for other players’plors at the same time. But then, I saw this:

(Post by MichaelTheLightBringer, by the way)

So, it seemed that this time around, my plot was too open. So at this point, I feel a bit lost here. I don’t know what exactly would make for the best formula regarding “openess” within an RP’s plot. Do any of you have any advice?

I wouldn’t put a lot of faith into what Michael thinks. For someone so concerned about making the rp all about heroes and villains, he spent an awful lot of time on the big wedding scene.


I agree with Traykar, I too would not put faith into what Michael says, he tried to take over the RPG for himself and believed his characters and ideas were better than anyone else


Plus you’re putting one comment made by one former member of the boards above everyone else’s comments. You complained about this in PM too, but one-sided arguments where my comments are ignored aren’t really my fancy, and so I didn’t bring it up then.[quote=“Mctoran, post:12, topic:49648”]
I don’t know what exactly would make for the best formula regarding “openess” within an RP’s plot. Do any of you have any advice?

Okotan Adventures: Spider Saga. Take notes. Monitor GM activity, characters, and frequency. Heck, I’d even read the original for pointers despite it no longer running.



Nonono, Spider Saga’s better. Look at that. If you want to look at my stuff, I feel my currently running ones are better than OA and Adventure Continues ever were.

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but if he does that everyone will realize how bad I am at replying on time. :stuck_out_tongue:



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I’m not supposed to know that!

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