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Thereby Hangs a Tale

Thereby Hangs a Tale is a cooperative story-telling game for three to six players. It could be adapted for a slightly larger group by creating a spinner that accommodated more people. I stopped at six, because dividing a circle into seven equal parts seemed like too much work to me. ;-)

The Purpose of the Game

Or should I say "purposes." The primary purpose is to have a good time being creative together. You might use this game for other purposes, in addition to that.

  • Exploring Hypothetical Situations

You might want to envision a future state that you're trying to achieve and use the game to explore how people might interact. Because the story you're creating is fiction, you're not bound by the context of your current conditions. You can make things happen in the game by assuming that they are true.

  • Encouraging Safe Expression

Sometimes it's hard for people to talk directly with each other without feeling getting hurt. Something said in an exercise can trigger long-term problems. When telling a story, we're not so invested in the situation. If the fictional story goes badly, we can stop and all the problems in the game evaporate. It's just a story.

  • Gaining Empathy for Others' Roles

The role you play in the game may not be the role you play in real life. This pushes you to "try on" another's job and point of view. It's amazing how different a situation can look when you're looking at it from the other side of things.

Rules of Improvisation

This game is a form of improvisational theatre. You can find a lot of instruction and advice on making improv work well, but we'll cover a few important points here.

  • Collective Ownership

The heart of improv is cooperation and collaboration. The players are not reading a script written by one person. They're writing a script together. Stay in the moment, and do not anticipate what will happen in the future. The story may go in a very different direction than what you anticipate. Let it do so, follow it there, and take it somewhere interesting.

  • Support Each Other

One of the worst things you can do is put someone else into a dead end. At the end of a story telling turn, leave the next Story Teller the most options that you can. Your stories will go better than if you restrict their options to the ones you imagine. Try to not create a stop or pause in the story by leaving the next Story Teller in a bind.

  • Follow Each Other

The story snippet preceding your turn is a gift. Use details from it in your snippet. You're all creating a single story. Make it hold together from one Story Teller to the next

  • Keep Everyone Involved

Don't hog the limelight. Make sure everyone is getting opportunities to contribute. The spinner is intended to keep the rotation of Story Tellers unpredictable, but sometimes it doesn't play fair. That's why we added the rule that if the current Story Teller is indicated again by the spinner, they get to choose the next Story Teller. Choose wisely to keep people involved and the story interesting.

Building The Game

I created the Spinner by printing Spinner.png in color and pasting it on cardboard. Then I pushed a T-pin up through the center for an axle and held it vertical with tape on the bottom side. On the top side, I put a small washer, a pointer, another small washer, and a small piece of wood to cover the point of the T-pin. My T-pin was too tall, so I cut it shorter. You can buy plastic spinners from game supply stores, but I made mine from a craft popsicle stick with a small hole drilled in the center.

I printed the cards on colored 3x5 inch index cards. On my printer I have to hand feed these, so I print the front sides first. Then I print as many copies of the back side as needed, hand-feeding the same cards through, turned over.


  • Avatars

When I first played this game, I brought a collection of finger puppets that I had. Each player wore a finger puppet as they told the story. You can pretend that it's this avatar speaking rather than yourself. Perhaps that makes it easier to play a role that's foreign to you.

The Future

At this writing, this game has only been played twice, both times in one Game Night at Agile Testing Days 2018 in Potsdam Germany. I'm sure it can be improved and embellished further. Let me hear from you.

When creating a copy of this game, create some blank Role, Event, and Assumption Cards. The players can then enhance the game on the fly. If these enhancements contribute to the fun and exploration, then add them permanently to the game.


Thereby Hangs a Tale--a collaborative story-telling game




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