As a history professor and the lead game designer at Mythweaver Games, I often think about what I do in the context of generations past.

Mythmaking has always been central to what we do as humans. The details may change as the stories are passed down, but the heart of a folk story endures. 

Why? Because folk stories do more than broaden our horizons, they establish a worldview. Whatever fantastic elements they employ, the fundamental content of a story is the value judgments it makes about the way the world is.

Stories do more than give meaning to the world, they are the very medium of meaning itself. A list of facts tells you nothing about what something means. Meaning requires moral content.

Good stories with enduring substance become a moral landscape that we inhabit. They are shaped by the values of the culture in which they arise, and continue into future generations. Folk stories are generational. The young receive them from the old at bedtime, around the fire, or under the stars—precisely at that age where childrens’ sense of wonder is most receptive to the gravity and mirth of their elders.

For thousands of years, the primary mode of storytelling was this way: local, human, interpersonal, value-laden, embodied.

Enter the modern world. While the printing press forever changed the way we interact with media, it wasn’t until recent history that the entire apparatus of storytelling began to change. With the rise of intellectual property law came the possibility of holding a monopoly on narrative—and ultimately the corporatization of storytelling. 

We now depend on faceless corporations like Disney to tell us what is and what is not the “official” (i.e., real) version of our cultural stories. They even employ language like “canon” for these approved versions, a word originally used for talking about the authoritative body of holy scriptures in a religion. This is no accident: the power to control stories is the power to control a culture’s moral imagination.

But now we’ve outsourced that power to ideologically-driven corporate committees. And so storytelling itself has changed: it has become external, impersonal, top-down, imposed. Increasingly our stories are controlled by powers foreign to the common man, stories that he does not inhabit but merely consumes.

As a humanities professor, I was uncomfortable with this reality but didn’t know what to do about it. Many of my colleagues and associates advocated for entering into that ideological battleground with their own alternative narratives—writing new fiction, making new movies.

I was skeptical. Even if you consume off-brand media that’s more intellectually or morally grounded, you’re still a passive recipient of narratives and ultimately dependent on the entertainment industry for forming your values.

I found an answer where I least expected it: games. In-person, tabletop games look a lot more like a folk storytelling experience than you might think. They require the social context of a local community and have a distinctly emergent quality to them. The game experience isn’t imposed or external, it’s an organic conflux of active participants.

We developed Tales of the Round Table as an experiment in doing precisely this. We wanted to utilize the medium of a traditional board game but direct it towards facilitating a folk tale experience.

So while Tales of the Round Table as a game is composed of a few booklets, some cards, and dice, the substance of the game is entirely narrative. The game prompt takes the form of a narrative situation: set in Arthurian Britain, the game opens not long after young Arthur has drawn the sword from the stone, but prior to the birth of Camelot. The players take on the roles of Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, and the Faerie Queen, and must solve problems that threaten the incipient kingdom: Morgana the sorceress, princely rivals to the throne, meddling supernatural powers, and the tenuous interpersonal relationships of the main cast. 

What does gameplay look like? Not like a board game, but like an oral storytelling culture in miniature. The rules establish parameters, but within those parameters it’s the players’ responsibility to build the story as they play. As players take turns contributing, they establish a shared, imagined world that is created and conducted entirely through the speech of the participants. This results in an incredible range of content and outcomes: happily-ever-after, bitter tragedy, or anything in between.

The reward of play is in seeing how the story and its moral themes unfold, and who the characters—and the kingdom—become as a result of their actions. But even more powerful, the experience is authored by the players themselves, not as something arbitrary, but as a continuous cycle of inhabiting the narrative and responding to its changes. Like a living story, we shape it and are shaped by it.

Tales of the Round Table isn’t a game aimed at “gamers”. It wasn’t designed for any particular subculture, but for the shared macro-culture of the human experience of storytelling. Because we are all storytellers and story-hearers, participants tend to catch on to what the game is about in a matter of minutes.

There’s something raw and exhilarating about an emerging story that no single person is in charge of. Tales of the Round Table provides a compelling alternative to the passive, consumable media in which we are constantly inundated. When new players realize the responsibility they have as active participants, the emotional response is palpable.

But the real treasure is seeing a little version of the legend built up around the table, spoken into being by players out of the imagination of the mind and the content of the heart, where every game is a unique confluence of these people, at this table, on this day. Any given session of Tales of the Round Table is unlike any other session or even any other version of the Arthurian stories. Yet each one remains an authentic continuation of the human themes of this millennia-and-a-half legend. That its moral content can still shape us today should be no surprise: this is the power of the stories we inhabit.

Zachary Porcu is a professor of humanities at the University of St. Katherine and the lead designer at Mythweaver Games, a crowdfunded creative community. You can purchase Tales of the Round Table or learn more about interactive storytelling at their website,