(Bear in mind that Stories and Marks are definitely optional systems for Epic. They are designed for groups that want the players to be more involved than usual and for GMs who enjoy sharing narrative responsibility. They aren’t necessary to the overall system at all.)
Stories are a system for rewarding player buy-in regarding the Template described previously, as well as for spreading the duty of narration and conflict creation around the table. Stories are a player resource.
Marks are a system for enabling players to define the outcome of tests that their character fails while giving the GM a method for introducing new conflicts in the lives of the characters. Marks are a GM resource.
First, Stories. Stories are gained through a player putting effort into building the Template during character creation, tying her character into as many group goals and conflicts as possible. I will need to playtest what kind of balance is best here, but the idea is that players with greater buy-in (and time to spend) will be able to take more control over how the story develops overall by using their Stories to influence it.
Stories can also be ‘earned’ through extra work from a player that enriches the game. In my previous Mage game and my friend Aric’s current BESM game, we are involving a lot of player-created material to enrich the setting and the narrative. Players are encouraged to write and contribute as much as they are willing to. I’ve found that this absolutely adds to the enjoyment of a game for most players, and doesn’t detract from any of those who are less involved as long as nothing really significant to the game happens “off camera” on a blog or over email – unless that’s how you’ve all agreed the game is going to run. How often Stories are awarded will have to be a balance that every game group strikes on its own.
A Story can be used to set a scene or to introduce a new character or conflict into a scene. A Story can also be used to influence a “set piece”, such as the weather or the natural world. What it cannot do is specify particular actions or motivations to any given character. A Story could be spent to say “the city guards show up”, but not to say “the city guards show up and arrest my enemies.”
It is possible to set scenes at various points in time, from the narrative “present” back into the past. This gives players the chance to work out scenes and conflicts from their past. This shouldn’t usually be a time for one player to create a scene that involves only their character, however. The point of Stories is that more than one character is participating. This will vary from group to group, but the goal of this system and the Character Creation system in general is to get everyone involved in the game and the story as much as possible. Background stories that involve only one particular character can simply be narrated or built into the story by the player in question where appropriate. “I once faced something a lot like this when I was in the Imperial navy…” and so on.
Stories are regained through Reckonings, Achievements and Losses. Everyone involved should get at least one (since these should be very significant events) and those most involved might be awarded more.
Marks are an outgrowth of the idea that the loser in a given test narrates what happens. The purpose of this is to give people who roll poorly something interesting to do, but it is not intended to let players get their characters off easily. When you’re having a test at all, something significant should be at stake – otherwise, why have a test at all? When a player narrates her character’s failures, she should make them hurt.
This is where Stories come in again. Players who are extremely active and have a lot of time on their hands will tend to accumulate a lot of Stories, particularly at the beginning of the game. The player with the least STories, however, also has a special responsibility (and this player will change over the course of a game as Stories are spent and regained). The player with the least Stories determines whether a given narration has earned a Mark. If the failure didn’t cost enough, especially if the character in question lost nothing for her failure, then the GM is given a Mark for that character.
At any point later in the game, during any scene, the GM can spend a Mark to incorporate some difficulty or challenge into the life of the Marked character. Marks enable a GM to single out a particular character for trouble, which normally should not be the case. Ideally, the group faces difficulties together and is tested by them in most circumstances. But when you’re Marked, you can be sure that trouble is coming.