Story Games 101: Angle the Chairs

This is a simple trick we’ve been using at Story Games Seattle for years. It may seem trivial but it’s not.

Your physical environment has a huge impact on your social interactions, and a role-playing game is just one big social interaction. In the kind of games we play — story games with no game master — the ideal seating arrangement is as close as possible to a circle.

Why a circle? Because it’s easier to communicate if you can see each other. If you aren’t facing each other it’s much harder to read all the unspoken social cues we use as human beings. A slight frown or raised eyebrows can reveal tons about how the other person is reacting to what’s happening. We do it constantly.

Unfortunately, the world is full of tables like this:

chairs1

Ah, the rectangular table! Our old enemy. It’s too long to put people at either end like you would with a square table, so the players sitting next to each other are in the social danger zone. They have to turn 90 degrees to face each other, so they will miss a lot of social cues. I will lay down cash money that they will have a harder time interacting or will simply interact less.

But there is an absurdly simple fix. When you sit down, just have everyone angle their chairs to face the person diagonal to them.

chairs2

Instant round table. The key thing is that the angle of your chair to the edge of the table (i.e. the way we normally orient ourselves) is completely unimportant. Your angle towards the other players is what matters.

For other numbers, just position everyone to face the center of the imaginary circle. If you have three players, you can put someone at the end of the table and angle the chairs that are facing each other. Same with five: put someone on the end and alter the angles. The two chairs near the seat on the end should scoot back slightly so the other two players have a clear sight line.

When in doubt, imagine there is no table. Just position your chairs to face the other players.

    Ben Robbins | September 20th, 2016 | , | hide comments
  1. #2 Ben Robbins says:

    Confanity: “We can see each other peripherally and communicate with subtle verbal or gestural cues that don’t interrupt or engage the rest of the room/table.” I want everyone to engage, not have side-talk that other players miss out on.

  2. #1 Confanity says:

    I like it – although these days all my gaming is online, so it doesn’t really matter – but the underlying assertion goes directly against some of my own experience. No doubt your own experience is different, but I tend to feel very in tune with someone I’m next to even when we’re arranged in the standard parallel manner. We can see each other peripherally and communicate with subtle verbal or gestural cues that don’t interrupt or engage the rest of the room/table. In contrast, when someone is across from me, I feel like I have to look straight at them for the entirety of an interaction, which is awkward and tiring. Perhaps it all depends on the individuals involved, and their interaction styles?

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