overcome the story challenge, and as the game intensifies; it's up to the GM to maintain the entertainment.
Understand the depth of cooperative storytelling. Elements of direction and style and a little snake oil bravado can help a game become an event. Make it a happening.
Everybody's brain has a mystery. A story teller's job is to explore that mystery.
Samuel Fuller, Film Director
Shaman and confidence men have one thing in common: they tell stories to effect others. Understanding the inherent motivational differences between these storytelling creatures, the focus is on how they tell their stories. Their stories evoke attention and inspire action. Shamans tell stories to strengthen community ties and recount powerful stories. Con men tell stories that gain people’s confidence to swindle and cheat. Past the issues inherent in their motivational differences, these storytellers are very good at what they do. A gamemaster’s role is curiously similar. Like all aspects in gaming, a good GM knows what they are doing and why. It is having done the research and preparation with a presence of faculties and the will to entertain. Voice and inflection are your tools and conversation is the medium. Know your story, why you are telling it, who you are telling it to and know the dynamic levels of your audience, intelligence, aptitude, attention, interest and other personal attributes. Most important of all, try to at least look like you know what your doing.
Just as there is smorgasbord of story composition elements, there are a variety of storytelling considerations that are helpful to the GM’s plight. The storytellers of magic and creative currency exchange have a distinct purpose in mind when they tell their stories and can overcome the challenges of conversational opposition. Accepting that there will be challenges to the telling, both shaman and cons have techniques to control the entire experience ahead of audience from first word to conclusion. RPG’s are cooperative experiences and player input effects story development. Once a GM loses control of the story, its interactivity depends on the strength of improvisation. Good improvisation lasts only so long in a game environment because player debates carry the advantage of many people opposing one GM. Without preparation, troupe scrutiny of game events can cause a quick and easy solution of any challenge thrown at them. A good storyteller has a focal purpose in mind throughout the event: to entertain. To accomplish this, there must be an internal management of content contingencies and a continual gauging of audience interest through the end of a story’s telling to achieve success.
Storytelling tricks are deployed to maintain attention as effective communication to maintain interaction with the group; how to hold attention, how to handle hecklers and accent the story as part of the telling. Some tricks of the trade can help a game master tell stories:
Pregnant Pause: A sigh or a pause during a delivery can accent emotion or give enough time in a conversation for the audience to make the leap from idea to idea on their own, making them part of the story discussion.
Mirror Mirror: Handle a heckler by recycling their comment into your own delivery. If a heckler tells you stink, tell him you hadn't noticed since his own had overpowered your own nose. If PC's take character's on long open flow discussions, learn how to take their own material and turn it into story material and keep things moving.
Abracadabra: Use of misdirection by scene movement, speech patterns, NPC developments or by changing the subject can help maintain story content. If players accidentally turn to the last page in the story or uncover story information out of sequence, learn to use diversions until you get a handle on things and get the story back on track.
Excited Melodrama: Its time to tell the story about the one that got away. Excite your players by using NPC perspectives to tell of ancient legends and big fish. Tell stories within stories and wave your hands around in frantic gestures when you do it. Be an excited character to excite the characters.
From the warmth of campfire stories to the personal convictions of water cooler gossip to the charm of faerie tales, telling stories is an expression of the spoken word to recount fictional events; imaginary happenings. Hoping to entertain and garner attention, the goal is to excite the audience with your ideas and how you tell them; to deliver to a story to their consciousness, a memorable experience from beginning, to middle, and then to an end.
When you sit down intending to design an adventure, understand what it is you are planning to do. The plot needs to be something you can tell and also work in a game environment. A cooperative story needs a baseline game plan to work with against game influences while maintaining entertainment value and a good game quality. The process of turning a plot synopsis into a cooperative story environment takes preparation. Include storytelling in your game plan with a role playing strategy.
Telling a good story can be done if the person telling the story has told it over and over so many times that experience has polished the delivery to a shiny finish or a little bit of skill combined with some earnest forethought. Gamemasters, having suckered a weekly audience into attending with a promise of free pizza and caffeine enriched beverages have the advantage of stumbling into a story telling style. With a little forethought and a golden plan, its only five steps to storyville.
This basic story telling strategy works in tandem with the five stage plotting method. One segment for each stage with controlled transitions to maintain momentum. The subject of each stage is the story material with the most probable plot controls accounted for. Each stage should include functional game elements told under the guise of a story. For each stage, map out the relevant discussion points for cues and prompts to maintain the high volume of material needed to drive the game. Keep game support references handy to support the weight of player scrutiny and make each game an adventure. Tell your story, including all the key points of plot and mechanics specific to a scene or encounter and stay on the topic. The topic for each stage is to get out all the information players need to fairly navigate the game environment and enjoy their characters in a story setting.
Get things going - - this is a cooperative story. Don’t bore your audience. Start with a short preamble or narrative foreshadowing of upcoming story conflict. Give players the time and material to do character entrances, in character, and give them good story oriented NPC’s in which to do it. Don’t bog the game down in unnecessarily long narratives or start with un-associated descriptions. Plot interaction should be on establishing the story and the PC’s role in that story. Deliver the story hook and be ready to answer their exploratory questions with something worth discovering. Remember to establish the functional basics:
- Deliver the Story Hook
- Context conventions
- Define the status-quo
- Don't forget to use techniques like Pregnant Pauses.
- Important comments about story setting
- Environment and Mood
- Pertinent and interesting descriptions
- Establish movement goals
- Subplot: Villains anti-goal is to strike an alliance with the Card Sharks and rob the pink panther diamond.
- Conduct character entrances
- Begin character development
- Introduce NPC: villain's mole
- Remember Syphon’s abilities: add at least 3 extra dice to challenge his character/ +1 XP If he uses his martial arts
to take out henchmen instead of his PP.
- Use the henchmen write ups for Card Sharks if the villains henchmen fail.
- The Card Sharks will hire C.L.O.W.N. if they significantly lose to the PC's
- Characters need to find “X” for the complication to occur.
- Encounter #1 when “X” is discovered
- Any character trying to find “X” needs a minimum 15 INT or suffers a -1 to their EGO.
Draw PC's out of familiar territory and sink the stories detail anchors; give players the functional elements: locations, characters, story events, objects, equipment and anything else the players will need to navigate the story that was planned. Let the story be a self fulfilling prophecy by first insinuating the promises of story excitement and then letting expectations form anticipation....which coincidentally is in the game plan. Descriptions and character interaction has been accounted for with points and bullets (after all, you are the game master). The material should be interesting and subject driven as the interactive content is a function of the game. Motivate their character by introducing story complications. Work the room and play off player reactions, making sure the character roles match that which has been designed. Characters in simple adventures are usually GM designed and the content is easier to monitor. Characters in complex adventures are usually player designed and the content should already be familiar to the GM by the time the game begins. By this point in a game, characters should know why they are in the story and the general idea of the role their character is going to play in the story. Complicate their character's status-quo with Murphy's Law, daily hassles and irritating henchmen that validate the story subject. Don't be afraid to tell player's "no", "your action fails" and grin when a villain's henchmen is seen running from the PC's shiny hall of justice after planting a flaming bag of dog-doo. Goad your players into action: this is the transition to crisis.
- Close the story hook with a clue to negotiate from this stage to the next
- Establish dependable story logic
- Change the weather to increase difficulty
- Describe the places that characters explore
- Describe how things are effecting the story
- Bring about events to involve the heroes
- Resolve possible character Disadvantages as part of the story complication
- Subplot: Let players know, through character dialogue that the Card Sharks alliance has occurred and they can't stop it
- Movement goals are apparent: to protect the diamond, complicate matters with a DNPC insider who gives the antagonist the secret plans to protect the diamond
- Specific character roles to gauge story development
- Continue NPC developments as active characters; they are part of the story.
- Use brief NPC character comments to enforce NPC reactions
- Make notes on what they would and would do in contingent situations
- Scene: DNPC breaks a rendezvous with the PC's, if any of the investigate, modify investigation rolls (see direction)
- All PC investigation rolls suffer -2 mod against discovering the hand-off of secret plans.
- First skirmish: Card Sharks ambush the PC's with a standard attack force to justify the C.L.O.W.N. out-sourcing.
- Make sure to include a martial artist henchman for Syphon.
- Secret plans hand-off is justified by the villains network of undercover allies. Use small resolution table "Z" for encounter.
- Offer a +3 bonus on investigations to discover C.L.O.W.N. involvement if PC contact "Y" is asked.
- Characters get +1 to surprise attacks if they suspect the plans have been compromised.
- Encounter #2 when diamond theft is attempted.
- Any character trying to crack the antagonists ring of informants gets a +1 for each successive encounter to reach the crisis.
- PC's get +1 for all combat rolls if they revise their plans.
Angered, on the run and trying to foil the antagonist's anti-goal, characters need to know what the challenge is. Part of telling an RPG story well enough throughout the game is so that players understand exactly what is happening. Either actively or passively, players need enough story information to define their character's challenge by knowing what is at stake. The better the story is told, the more entertaining the exchange can be. Accent the story with creative NPC usage: make the story's dog owning henchman mocking the heroes from his jail cell. Make sure NPC's sympathetic to the villains cause the harbingers of sour grapes to the heroes. Give players some interesting characters to interact with. NPC character roles throughout the game will be the main story interface with game discussions so know what you are supposed to be talking about. A GM is a discussion moderator and provider of story material as it is needed. Urgent messages and blinking red hotlines should fill their story environment. Heroes scolded by museum curators and made painfully aware that their plan didn't work, the diamond is gone and they have to get it back. Facilitate player involvement and satisfaction with dramatic NPC's and vivid storytelling.
- The diamond is gone.
- Use Curator to find the hideout clue
- Describe the police investigation teams
- Heroes are ID'd before they can enter the crime scene
- Museum had advertised diamond and it's gone; players made responsible for lost visitors
- Heroes need to find villains hideout as part of the story crisis
- The crisis could be that the villain needs the bauble for a doomsday device
- Let heroes know that C.L.O.W.N. is on the streets looking for a "good game of tag"
- Continue to contingency notes, especially on goal and anti-goal issues.
- Movement goals are obvious: to get the diamond back and stop the anti-goal
- Use NPC Private eye to help out the hero's if players miss the clues
- Specific character roles to gauge story development as part of the story crisis
- Continue NPC developments as active characters
- Subplot: Let players know through character dialogue they have been effected by the crisis and role play interaction with story context
- Scene: DNPC realizes villain ruse but is captured by the villain
- Focus on C.L.O.W.N.'s humor on delivery; make fun of PC costumes and use riddles to clue in hideout location
- Get PC's to encounter #3 to start C.L.O.W.N. involvement.
- First skirmish: Card Sharks ambush
- Use crowd control supplement from Adventurers club for crowded mall scene
- Encounter #4: Wacky Mall Scene
- Characters get -1 to surprises from crowd commotion
- Inflict a -2 to perception rolls for crowd interference
- PC's get hideout location if they beat henchmen "X" and check his pouch
Lightning crashes, dark clouds roll in and the heroes arrive in dramatic fashion. Unless you tell the players, whey aren't going to know it has arrived. Every story context and genre has their conventions and a GM should be telling the story in like fashion. Story details will differ but the song remains the same. Its time to make a point and story conflict should be making sense. Challenges should be completely illustrated and the villains should be itchin' for victory. Whether it's a straight out combat on the villain's home turf or a more dramatic turn of events, this is the pinnacle of the story and should be perceived by the players as their chance to resolve story conflict. Game mechanics should be adequately told within the storytelling and game direction should be smoothest. Elaborate on turning points and close calls in the nick of time. Help players understand the game so the story, conveying the immensity of their challenges with the spoken word. These are the main characters at the climax of the game story. This is the moment; the two minute countdown, the dramatic confrontation and the reason everybody is playing the game. Storytelling should reflect this with like enthusiasm.
- Don't be afraid of asking provocative questions such as, "So, you know where the hideout, but where in the hideout is the diamond?"
- List details that improve storytelling cues
- Describe the villains lair with flair
- Give clues on visually obvious dangers
- Update players on how things are changing
- Maintain setting constants with quick descriptions
- Accent hideout assault with dramatic storytelling as part of the story crisis
- Story interaction is at its busiest point
- Know your material or suffer game stalls at the worst time
- Pay attention to antagonist role playing and tactics
- NPC's still around by this point of the story are usually key characters, make notes on their probable reactions
- Subplots should be either wrapping up or pushed forward to follow up adventures
- Keep notes brief and pay more attention to the action
- When villain is in trouble, call in the Card Sharks
- Use C.L.O.W.N. as the cavalry if the PC's need it
- Villain is a braggart.; play the role
- Plan for the contingency: if the players are unfairly outmatched because you over-designed the villains character mechanics; make notes on villain adjustments
- Encounter #5: Hideout Battle
- Finished material listed: movement chart, equipment write-ups and encounter tables help things run smoothly if you remember to use them
- PC's stop doomsday device if they cripple the power source
- If they don't stop device, give C.L.O.W.N. a -2 to perception rules
- If they make PER rolls, they stop having fun and stop the device
Movement and pacing is the fourth dimension: time. It is the sense that flows. As things happen, they happen in time - - Character movement across settings and through stories benefit when the storytelling accounts for movement through time. In the story environment, time is an illusion of the story that is often passive. Remember to include timely descriptions and describe the ticking of the clock. A two hour real-time adventure can take place over ten minutes of fictional time, a month or an characters entire life span. The only way a player knows how much time has past is when it comes up as part of the story. Don't make a sense of time just an afterthought. Ideas of movement and pacing will affect plot staging and transitions from stage to stage and scene to scene.
Release the thumbscrews and calm down your storytelling delivery. Depending on the story's outcome, resolve the story with appropriate story telling. Tell a solemn ending if the doomsday device turns everyone into zombies (occasionally offer a silver lining or the Scooby-Doo ending if it will make for a good story) or roll out the red carpet so players can enjoy their victory. Reinforce resolution and bring the story to a close. Role play story endings with familiar NPC's and interesting epilogues. If this was a single, simple adventure, wrap it up and have a laugh with your friends. If this was adventure was part of a campaign, offer a cliffhanger or teaser for the next game session. A teaser is the foreshadowing of a story hook. Start telling the next story on a vivid point that can be quickly recounted.
- Time effects how long you have to tell the story
- More encounters means more time
- Describe the villains lair with flair
- Include the time of day and clues on how fast time is passing in game-time
- The diamond as a story detail is a setting event
- Have an idea about each stages length
- Know when its time to stop rambling
- NPC involvement effects a story as they are scheduled into story involvement
- Convey a sense of time through NPC mood and urgency
- Make comments about time running out
- Good story direction with a sense of how much real-time has passed enables good games to managed without running too short or too long
- Let players know how long time limits are and the relationship from real-time to game-time
- Plan for contingencies or run the risk of players legitimately overcoming the story challenge in a half an hour
- Call attention to time passages during encounters
- Know the game elements to reduce floundering
- Without game mechanics contingencies, the story telling can be bogged down while people search for source material
Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back.
Ben Jonson, Author
A Routine Situation
By plotting out a rough idea of all the different discussion points, a GM can develop a personalized game flow. When the action is going to occur, where drama will be intense and when game situations will consume game conversations is when a Gm needs to shine. Many familiar instances will come up in games when conversations will focus on common topics. Try to get used to telling certain "kinds" of conversation: combat scenes, routine comedy sketches, monologues, etc., whatever the usual game topics are in failure scenarios. Develop your style of telling certain kinds of story fragment as a routine. A simple routine is: "Stop me if you've heard this one before, how many anythings does it take to screw in a light bulb?" < Insert answer here >. The structure stays the same, but the material changes; it is a routine. Set different story and game routines as you successfully deal with an issue and develop a brief but familiar delivery.
Sitting down and thinking long enough to write a story could be considered an accomplishment, but it is a long way from telling that story to a group. A storyteller needs to cultivate charisma and know the material, enough so to hold an audiences attention. To know how to manage content over time, make a point and be entertaining. To tell a cooperative story is to handle all the sweeps and nuance of storytelling and to manage the production aspects of player involvement and evolving content. The direction of stage and character complicates as does the characters plight. The more players and their characters have to deal with, the more a GM has to deal with. Maintain the quality discussion thread against the many aspects of game and storytelling is akin to intellectual border patrol. Players are doing everything they can with their characters to