Delivering a successful adventure story takes a great deal of focus and preparation if it is going to meet its expected potential. The first stage of understanding how to deliver a worthy story is by realizing all the dynamic connections of the game. Without this examination, all that will come out of the cooperative effort is mass confusion and random pondering instead of fluid and compelling activity. Instead of suffering the abuses of the sloth, be aware of the various dynamic possibilities of cooperative storytelling. Employ good GM direction and have an interesting story to tell. Tell a story that the players expect to take part in producing. Each of the main RPG dynamics: game master, players, story, characters and mechanics relate to each other interactively during the story experience. By understanding the implications of dynamic storytelling, game production becomes a collection of ideas
that can be arranged to make a game more successful. Success being measured by the expectations of the group. Once the intangible connections of common ground and camaraderie are made, planning a functional adventure is within a GM’s grasp. Stories will have relevance to the troupe, communication lines will be open and capable of supporting complex abstract environments and all that remains is the academics of the game system.
A mind is like a parachute, it doesn't work unless it's open.
Mind over Mind
The energy of a cooperative story flows from the nature of interaction. The source of any RPG’s energy is generated by a troupe’s expected potential. Expected potential is simply a way of considering why every member joined the troupe and what they expect. Assuming that the troupe has some amount of gaming experience, each person has basic expectations in accordance with joining the game and the quality of orientation to the RPG environment. A gamemaster’s focus is on the attendance of memory and details, player attention, story material and presentation while players are absorbed in their own internal vision of their characters and the story setting. From that moment on, a game’s energy is either positive as the GM’s expected potential and the player’s expected potential align, or negative as they drift further and further apart into disappointment. If a player or players have no game experience, then the amount of skill a game master has will be a direct measure of the game’s success and enjoyment.
Achievable Potential is the realistic assessment of comprehensive troupe abilities and dynamics. For example, a mildly seasoned GM plans a story line with complex role playing and epic combat. The players, who are also mildly seasoned, come to the game with their basic characters and previous experience. This crucial point of interaction requires the greatest amount of attention and nurturing because gaming is an experiential endeavor. A personal vision that depends on the previously accumulated game experiences of a particular gamemaster’s direction and style for survival. Games start simple and become more complicated so that players can get accustomed to a gamemaster’s particular style and then increase the difficulty of the game as each challenge is overcome. Without experience, a player has no comparative guide of interaction, communication or structure that relates to their learning process. If a gamemaster’s confusing narrative leaves a player not knowing where the story left off, they won’t know how to be involved in the story. Should our mildly seasoned game troupe expecting a simple story using basic rules be offered a calculus driven production of The Odyssey, the game won’t be fun for anyone. Good group dynamics require a learning curve relative to the complexity of the game environment. Player’s need experience in the heightened state of the GM’s unique environment. All the subtle methods of directing intricate encounters become irrelevant as only the GM would know how to interpret the consequences. If you imagine that a tree falls in the woods, what sound does it make in your forest?
Cooperative stories rely on more than one person’s ability to tell an interesting story, they rely on a troupe’s ability to exchange information within the context of the story environment. The story environment being more than just a cast of characters or a campaign setting, but the situational relationships of the troupe as a whole. When a GM takes time to understand how each player reacts to direction, with other players (both in and out of character), story narration and game mechanics, and the ability to match expected potential with achievable potential becomes probable. From the point of mutual understanding, any troupe can then incrementally develop their perception of each other, their characters and the story environment, thereby developing dynamic relationships that will support increasingly complex game environments. Each pattern of behavior is a personalized troupe argot developed and internalized over the course of the troupe’s formation and initial game sessions that maintain the viable communication of complex and abstract ideas.
Expected Potential starts with the game master. During the primary briefing and other initial stages of the game, a GM should properly meter and communicate the level of story detail, required involvement, attendance minimums and other basic information as well as gathering troupe input and expectations. This starts the process in a positive motion by increasing the levels of mutual understanding amongst the troupe.
Before the storytelling can begin, a GM must be ready to identify, build, and improve troupe relationships on various levels. Interpersonally, a game master must create an atmosphere conducive for player harmony while maintaining enough mood to enjoy hardy character conflict. Fictionally, the GM must generate enough interest in and of the plot to build game momentum and mechanically there must be an adequate, yet not overwhelming, player challenge that has a relevant relationship to the story. Players, on the other hand, have to build almost their entire perception of the game from the information supplied by the rest of the troupe - - game master in particular. As a game master must consider measures of control, players need a political center of interaction with the GM, story, rulings, and other players with various skill levels and game expectations. All these factors contribute to a successful troupe’s style of game play by maintaining the positive atmosphere put forth by the GM.
By examining all the dynamic links of a role playing game, a troupe will more fully understand what is expected of them to create exactly the type of game they are expecting. From the mildly seasoned Friday night hack and slash adventure to an epic campaign with grandiose character interaction and large scale combat, use game dynamics to orchestrate the situational parameters of the game.
Gamemaster and Story
The first game dynamic to examine is game master and story. A GM cannot adequately run a game he is not interested in and players will not play in a game that a GM has no interest in. Cultivating a viable story begins with identifying some of the basics; genre, character functional ability, application of game mechanics, dispensing judgment and identifying the relationship of these issues throughout the troupe. Then the GM should then examine her own motivations in running stories designed with these details, player expectations of the story, environment and their characters. With this, a GM can honestly pose the self
inflicting question of “can I run this type of story line”? If the answer is “yes”, then the GM will have the motivation and the knowledge to design an environment that will support stories capable of touching each player and the troupe as a whole in a way that will be interesting and mechanically challenging. In this dynamic, the GM has built “achievable potential” into the game.
Gamemaster and Player
Much of any game’s success rests in the way GM’s and players treat and act together. A clear line needs to be drawn between the personal and “professional” aspects of each other’s position while maintaining genuine respect for the other’s perspective. Gamemasters need to develop a style of direction conducive to trust and player creativity, bringing the best possible achievable results to each adventure. At the same time, that style of direction must posses enough authority to enforce game mechanics, control story functionality, and maintain friendly interpersonal relationships when game friction heats up.
Players have a responsibility to develop a reasonable system of identifying and communicating their perception of game inadequacies. Without the ability to defend a fair and just position within the confines of the game, a production will never reach its expected potential. This is best achieved by knowing when to tighten GM slack and when to loosen the thumbscrews on “off-nights”. A player’s role in the quality of participation is just as important and game affecting in terms of achievable potential. Inasmuch as the player must interact, so too does the character. Based on a game system's requirements, a viable character depends on a player’s knowledge of the system and an ability to communicate that knowledge to the GM. A good player should absorb as much player oriented game material as possible to quantify and reach their own expectations of character design and story involvement. Assuming that communication lines are open, a GM (or player mentor) should help any player reach their version of character expectations for proper character projection into the story.
Every item from drawing out player role playing and maintaining aggregate party balance (or imbalance) to player relations and character development will change with each troupe’s style. In turn, the basic needs of respect and communication become paramount for each person in the troupe to fulfill their expectations of character performance and story experience.
Gamemaster and Mechanics
As the flux of imaginative stuff spits and sparks during an adventure story, game master judgment should fuel game friction, not extinguish it. Mechanics establish everything from character performance and setting environment to story control and the level of game challenge. Each of a game’s mechanical parameters, set by the GM in conjunction with system dictates, should be pre-calculated and not crisis management. Proper mechanical design starts with preparation; a GM should be aware of system parameters, PC abilities, and the complex arrangement of story delivery and challenge mechanics. After preparation, a GM is left only with the mantle of judgment to help direct a story.
Based on the pre-established premise regarding the level of strategic engagement during a primary briefing sets the tone of mechanical interplay. Strategic encounters are easily resolved with charts, tables, dice, and the like. Role playing encounters, while possessing a mechanical base of measurement, rely greatly on story content, adventure need, player mood, fictional exchange, and expected potential - - all of which are fickle variables. It is this dynamic; choice and judgment in mechanical story delivery that not only quantifies a major portion of GM style, but the existence of game challenge. A game challenge that a game master should be aware of at all times during the game experience, from design to delivery, in terms of expected and achievable potential. Is the troupe built of power gamers who enjoy an in-your-face adventure with dozens of dice, or a Machiavellian troupe bent on role-playing intrigue and covert political struggles? The range is limitless and the only controlling force is the limitations of mechanics. Game mechanics controlled by a game master keeping interplay fair and challenging in a game world whose only restrictions are the undiscovered boundaries of imagination.
Gamemaster and Character
As a director helps actors bring out the best of their performances, so too does a game master. Players take the stage with their characters, and their only connection to that stage is the GM. Gamemasters must provide both adequate fictional description for understanding the story environment and mechanical directions to measure a character’s navigation and interaction within that environment. Players also need to stress their own understanding of what their characters are capable of doing, and to role play their character within the confines of the story and the game system. The way that is accomplished is by skilled game master direction. Clearly define all the active ingredients of a scene and bring it to life in the imaginations of the players. Give them a story setting with interesting characters to interact with and do it by telling a story.
Player and Character
Characters are vessels of identification and self-expression. Every single human being has some capacity and desire to escape the limiting boundaries of our simple senses via expression and communication. A little internal voice given a chance to take form in an interactive world to socialize with other little voices. This is any player’s opportunity to ask the impossible questions and break the rules of reality. Because the nature of a player’s character is grounded in abstract form, gamemasters should understand the dynamic investment made by each and every player. Every cognizant decision made by a player reflects the inherent maturity and internal workings of previous experience as it plays on the decision making process; i.e. a GM creates a story encounter; the encounter is a fictional puzzle to be solved; the player uses the character as a tool to solve the puzzle; the character exists in the story; the player has fun; end of story; a simple human dynamic that has been present in our psyche since the urge to paint with our fingers on cave walls with red mud. Because characters do not exist in real space, players must rely on their own previous experience (and hopefully, the rules of the character set forth by the system) to supply the decision making process that will be applied to the puzzle. Knowing the difference between a player’s choice and the fabricated choices set forth by character construction represent the barrier that must be enforced to maintain player/character separation. This is the line in the game drawn by sensibility. In the end, no matter what any critic says about role playing, maturity and responsibility for one’s own actions - - be it player or character - - will be based on an individual’s past experiences and desires.
It follows that every character possesses some part of the player because it is an investment in time, emotion, and mental concentration. For a player, each new character presents an opportunity to grow and adapt. As a game master brings a troupe together, she must assess each players commitment and capacity in order to design adventures that will reach achievable potential by understanding what it is that the troupe expects, what they want to express with their characters and the viability of that mixture. Understanding why a player chooses to play the character they have created and how they want it to manifest within the story environment will help gamemasters build adventure stories that will have relevance to their characters and the setting.
Player and Story
Any story starts with understanding. A GM must understand the nature of player expectations and what his own creative desires encompass. Why is he running the game story and how does it fit in with the troupe’s condition. Designing adventure stories requires a great deal of game master understanding and the less players are aware of that understanding, the better. Good stories need curiosity and surprise to make their climaxes worth the time and energy constructing the entire production. Keep the wonder in a story by associating the player to the story. No one likes a story they can’t relate to and especially one with a lousy ending. A good story environment depends on each troupe member’s ability to project their awareness into any given story situation. This projection is facilitated by interest, identification, and realization by the player.
Interest is generated in the beginning of the production when the troupe comes together for the primary briefing. Details including genre, character generation, theme, and mood are pondered by everyone in the troupe to establish their basic connections to their characters and the story environment. Those who are involved will be interested.
Identification is any player's capacity to understand their character and how to negotiate its actions in a game setting. The more effectively a GM communicates, the better a player will be able to continually develop a way of translating ideas into language enabling individual formulations of complex ideas that will correspond with the rest of the troupe. Ideas that each troupe member can identify with in order to negotiate the environment. Using a pre-established argot of troupe communication, a game master can then deliver adventures from keen observations of player involvement, thus increasing any players identification with their character and the setting. In addition, being able to identify player enthusiasm will help a GM design story lines that will maintain an improved level of interest.
Realization is the application of mechanics to meter and control the friction of complex abstract ideas as they act and react - - it is the only real way to understand how each individual player measures the campaign setting. This basic mathematical communication is the basis for a mutual understanding of the game setting by the entire troupe. It gives the GM an ability to control the perception of the environment and players have a clear method of communicating exactly how their character effects, and is effected by, that environment.
Maintaining any and all of these areas of player/story connection depends on a gamemaster’s perception of the game environment as it is perceived by the players. Once a GM can generate an adequate environment with accurate player projection, stories may become progressively more complex as the troupe’s language becomes more refined. Each troupe member possesses a greater understanding of the story environment, structure, and method of communicating interaction within the story. With this, a troupe’s experiential progress will develop in conjunction with the troupe’s ability to create and communicate fluid literary ideas.
Player and Mechanics
For a game master, mechanics represent a way to accurately measure the mental illustrations of the game world and a way of directing the story. Descriptions create the image, but mechanics measure the perception of that image. For players, mechanics are a mathematical context that verifies the substance of their story perception with that of the GM’s understanding of the game environment. It is also the only way they can accurately communicate what their characters do in that story environment. Everything that a player character does in a game world (that needs to be measured) is done so to meet the game challenge - - be it strategic or fictional engagement. Descriptions should be as vibrant and illuminating as possible, but
without all the facts and figures, the numbers won’t realize the image. This disjointing of player and environment will break down any story comprehension and interest by degrading the interactivity of the game.
It goes without saying that any player should understand the system rules if they intend on solving the GM’s puzzle. Either by direct involvement or help from the player mentor, all players should possess a complete understanding of the player portion of a game system within a few sessions. Faking it will only last so long as to develop a disinterest in the game because of frustration.
Player and Players
Never lose sight of the fact that role playing is a social activity. A social activity centered on an open exchange of ideas and emotions that can leave people feeling vulnerable to hurt feelings. Be aware that game dynamics in this area revolve around interpersonal respect. All troupe members should actively contribute to a positive and good gamesmanship environment.
On the game side, a GM should take the time to design adventures in which each player may find an identity in the troupe and each character a position in the party inasmuch that separate entities can work together as a unit. In this, all troupe members should endeavor function as a team to make the experience pleasurable and worthwhile for all.
Story and Mechanics
The biggest leap of all game dynamics is between storytelling and mechanics. How a game master applies system mechanics to a player situation is almost always a judgment call against its relation to story context. Player reactions to story situations are almost impossible to predict, making mechanical game structure difficult to plan. Because of this awkward connection between mind and paper, a gamemaster’s stylistic method of applying mechanics to a story, including a method of accounting for unpredictable PC effects on a story, is the basis for self-perception and appropriate story delivery. The troupe’s collective perception of a game system enables the GM to deliver a story with measured impact upon the main characters. This “on-the-fly” interpretive process is a relationship that can make or break a game master as it is a direct measure of storytelling abilities. Done correctly, a system’s mechanics becomes a tool to deliver a story rich in spoken word and a vibrant mathematical understanding of how the story affects the characters. Incorrectly understanding a system’s mechanics and how each player relates to that body of information prevents a game master from the basic ability to drive the context of a story along an unpredicted, but player pursued, direction. This twilight area between story and mechanics is where each member of the troupe most needs to apply their gaming ability. The skilled game doesn’t break character to outline this area, but uses the character to define mechanical understanding.
For the game master; temperance good judgment and earnest game direction will help produce a challenging interactive story environment. For the player; attention, active comprehension, and due diligence will compliment the GM’s effort in a union that will help all the game details of story and mechanics fall into place. As each player’s perception of the story challenge is internalized, it will contribute to a more vigorous exploration of the story setting and enjoyed as a story experience with measurable results.
Character and Story
Once a player has designed a character and the GM has approved it for play, it becomes a tool of the game. The stage is set by the GM for the players to interact; game encounters of all shapes and sizes that represent the puzzles and game challenges that is the sport of the game. The manner in which a player chooses to interact is defined by the player and is usually set forth by a range of involvement between role playing and strategic description. For example, the troupe has agreed to run a high gothic adventure set in period Europe. An NPC damsel in distress has been imprisoned in a nobleman’s tower in an attempt to anger a rival king and start a war. The players, who are the heroes of the story need to sneak into the villain's castle, save the damsel, and prevent a war. The puzzle is simply to negotiate through the course and its challenges; the villains castle with its incumbent guards and traps, saving the damsel, and returning her to the king. In this scenario, a player may choose only to interact with strategic description, “My character sneaks through a secret passageway, and unlocks the door from the inside of the room”, or with an added role playing interaction; “(my character sneaks up to the damsel’s door and kicks it in) Ha-HA! I’ve got the hidden key! I’m here with Ben! I’ve come to rescue you!” In either case, the player’s character is the focus for story negotiating.
Stories are about characters and in role playing games; players create the main characters of the story. They are meant for use within the story environment, and are nothing more than a figment of the imagination.
Character and Mechanics
As part of an interactive story, there needs to be a way of measuring the substance of mental recreation so that each player knows exactly what their character is functionally capable of doing in the story environment. Designed using the rules of the game system, the character is created by a series of tables and charts and allotted a group of numbers and corollary semantics. The goal for the player is to have a way to catalogue and communicate a character’s abilities, tools, and resources for use in the game. In any encounter, a player will interact with the story environment to solve the challenge. Written up, in game terms, is the challenge. While described with fictional prose, its roots lie in the mechanical make-up (usually mathematical, but some systems resolve challenges with semantic completion). Any solution negotiated by the GM and player, who does so with the character, is by encounter resolution. This process is varied from system to system, but is primarily a product of comparative probabilities and success ratios. The game challenge is simply the range of numbers between the character sheet (designed by the player) and the story challenge (designed by the GM for maximum story impact). Without the mechanical make-up, a character is back to being an imaginative figment.
A key factor that will affect every troupe is how each member contributes to the group as a whole on an interactive basis. Aside from the etiquette aspect of the game, a troupe will have a “chemistry” that will impact on stories and how a group participates. How the group as a whole acts and reacts to each other’s involvement and non- involvement, what type of story structuring and delivery they prefer can play a large role in the ongoing development of story generation and story progress. A troupe’s interactive condition is based on a surface-level ability to successively interact as a group - - whether or not the game breaks down into necessary debate every five minutes and the ability to maintain character perspective (as a group) in order to maximize story enjoyment.
Accomplish good direction by establishing structure in delivery. Start out by successfully delivering basic “first episode” adventures to develop game progress by reaching simple goals of achievable potential. As players become familiar with GM direction and other player involvement, each player will establish an understanding of how to interact with other troupe members, both as players and with their characters. By experiencing some initial positive encounters, the group’s familiarity with itself will be based in positive interaction rather than negative defensive posturing. Once a positive troupe dynamic puts the game on the right path, the GM can refocus her attention on story structure.
Keeping “first episode” adventures simple will help the GM identify what works and what doesn’t work with the group. For example, some groups prefer a fast-paced scattershot plot of cascading free-associated events while others like to stick to a more logically structured story line. Many prefer a blend and the only way to find out what works is by taking the time to observe and understand troupe dynamics at the onset of its gathering.
The Ultimate Dynamic
Game dynamics are different with each troupe and the role they play varied in their application. The core idea behind dynamic gaming is to identify how each part functions within the whole. Not a label that will invite limitation, but a looking glass that reveals the gears of the game; A game with an ultimate dynamic playing off the eternal curiosities of the human condition and its limitless possibilities.